How you can use print media to create great content

Print is dead?

I think that the rumors of print media’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

Walk into any newspaper agent and you’ll likely be greeted by a picture similar to this.

Picture taken in Zurich main station

There is no doubt that the rise of digital media has been, is, and will continue to be a challenge for the traditional publishing model.
Print is changing, but that doesn’t mean it is dead (yet).

Right now, we see as many publications as ever before. At the same time, they have to double their efforts to captivate an audience increasingly distracted by new, interactive, and often free media offerings.

What this means for us is that time spent looking at what print media is doing is well spent.

The curse of infinity, the blessing of constraint

Online you’ll never run out of space, so any website can publish an infinite amount of content.

This is a curse.
And the very reason why every guide for new bloggers emphasizes the need for focus.

  • Focus on your niche
  • Focus on your audience
  • Focus on key topics
  • Focus on creating useful, engaging content

Print media is blessed by constraint.
Every page that makes it into print costs dearly.

  • Paper
  • Printing costs
  • Delivery
  • Storage

This means that the magazine has to be on point. Every page has to be interesting to the readers and the advertising clients.

How do we use this for digital content?

Check the publications on your niche topic regularly.

What do they choose to publish?

As space is a premium, only important pieces of content make it into the publication. Think about what makes each of these important enough.
What might feel like filler might set the tone for another article or build a relationship with the target audience.

How do they design their magazine?
A magazine is designed to appeal to a certain target audience.

Take notes on colors, on graphical elements, and layout.
While this might not transfer seamlessly into digital, look and see if there are certain trends in your niche.
This could be certain colors, a very neutral style of photography, etc…
See if you can use those in your online branding efforts.

Take special note on image heavyness.
Images are expensive to print. If a publication uses a lot of them, there is good reason.

Take note on what kind of images are used. Colors are important, as is mood.
Images do not cost to print online, so exploit this advantage.

How do they address the audience?
Is there an informal tone prevalent in the niche or is it more formal? Take note.

How do they advertise and make money?
The obvious revenue model in print is advertising. The secondary model is subscriptions.
As a marketer, it is your job to lift and look behind the veil.

We’ll take a typical “lifestyle” magazine as an example here.

Read an issue of “Men’s health”. Do it. No, not online.. go and get a print issue.
After reading it the first time, go over it with a fine toothed comb and ask yourself:
What is this magazine really about?
What are they selling?
Hint: It isn’t fitness.

Looking at covers

The fight for display space

Look at this image.


This is real life “above the fold”, browsing and search.
Every magazine only has the top half of their main content offerings visible (if that).

They need to grab attention, lure you in, and make you buy right there.

The fight for brain space

Someone who walks into a news agent is confronted with the same image.
Drilling down on the niche he’s interested in, he’ll be confronted with 2-5 magazines around the same topics.
Here, the cover has to sell the content.

Research magazines in your niche and see what they promote on their front page.

This is premium space. You can be sure it is not wasted.

What we’ll do now is to turn digital (unless you like spending a lot of money and time at news agents)

Go to google image search

Example queries:

[fitness magazine cover]
[fitness magazine]
[”Men’s health” cover]

Alternatively, you can go to for most major magazines.

Collect a bunch of covers. The more, the merrier.

It is important to research two things when looking at covers:

1. Look at the promoted content
WHAT is being promoted?
You can be sure these topics are of interest for the audience.

2. Pay attention to recurring themes.
In any niche there are everlasting topics.
You’ll realize which ones they are by just looking at a bunch of covers.
For our example “Men’s Health” these are:

  • Build muscles (more, faster)
  • Lose belly fat
  • Get more /better sex


A little bit more involved is recurring seasonal topics.
Christmas is always of interest, but see if there are events in your niche that spawn a specific set of topics.
For the fitness niche, that is the new year.

  • Lose that Christmas belly
  • How to achieve your new year’s resolutions
  • New year, new me


Look at how the content is promoted

  • Do the magazines use long headlines or short ones?
  • Are there descriptions below the headlines?
  • For each one of them?
  • Is the focus on specific people? If yes, who?

Looking at the inside

Money? Money.

Any print magazine has a page with advertisers information.
This saves you the trouble of noting down every ad in the magazines.

Buy a magazine to get that juicy, juicy info. Best money you’ll spend.

You can see who buys ads in your niche.
Note who buys ads across the whole niche market.
Take note of those that buy HUGE advertising.
Pay special attention to those that do both.

At last: Go digital

Most magazines have an online presence as well.
Check the sites for the magazines you selected and see how they transfer their strategy, content, and desing to the online marketplace.
See how they monetize, too.

Print is dead? Not if you are an online marketer

The increased competition, and  economic pressures on the print market combine to give you the best of the best.
For the small price of a visit to a newsagent, a few print issues and some online research you can grab quite a bit of extremely valuable marketing information and content ideas in any niche.