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Can Digital-To-Print Work? Four Case Studies

A weekly look at a trend in the news.

IAC (NSDQ: IACI) CEO Barry Diller said this week that he still hoped to launch some sort of print “companion” to The Daily Beast, even though talks to combine the online news magazine with Newsweek fizzled. “One way or another I suspect we’ll either find something or we’ll create (it) somehow,” he said, noting the success Politico has had with its own print edition. His logic: “For advertisers, that makes sense.” Indeed, that rationale, along with the marketing power of the printed page, has convinced several digital publishers to make the seemingly counterintuitive decision to launch their own high-profile forays into print. Read on for four case studies.



Diller cited Politico as an example of a site that had success launching a print edition but, in fact, the publication has been “multi-platform” since its start in 2007. At the time, Politico‘s founders said they were also launching a print newspaper to cater to big-spending advertisers that wanted to reach Washington insiders; the paper is distributed for free to every office on the Hill.

“This is a very cost-effective way to send a message to Congress. A full-page ad for us can cost $10,000. It would cost 10 times that in the Post or New York Times,” executives told the Washingtonian at launch. “It definitely will succeed, simply because these people will spare no expense.”


Sure enough, after the fall 2008 elections, Politico expanded print publication to four days a week, up from three. As recently as last year, Politico was still generating the majority of its revenues from its print edition, although online ad sales were catching up quickly. The site reported $11.3 million in print revenue, compared to $7.3 million in online revenue. In 2008, online revenue was $3.5 million, while print sales were $7.8 million.

The Knot


The Knot (NSDQ: KNOT) is best known for its flagship wedding site, but since 2000, when it bought Wedding Pages for $10 million it has owned a stable of regional wedding magazines. It has also expanded its online properties significantly into print over the years. It launched a twice-a-year magazine version of The Knot in 2000 and boosted publication to four times a year last fall. In March the company also increased the print publication of a magazine edition of another one of its sites, The Nest, saying it would now distribute a print version of that publication at newsstands across the country; previously, it had only been distributed to some subscribers of The Knot magazine.

CEO David Liu told analysts earlier this year that the print strategy might seem “a bit counter-intuitive.” But he said that “as many or most publishers are buckling under their cost structures and closing magazines, we believe there’s an important opportunity to serve advertisers who remain committed to spending money in the print medium, as well as to promote our brands via newsstands across the country.”


Liu said earlier this year that the company had seen “healthy demand” for its expanded distribution of The Knot magazine and added that much of the magazine’s premium ad inventory had sold out. The company classifies its print revenue among “publishing and other.” Sales dropped nearly 14 percent last year to $16 million, a contrast to online ad sales, which bumped up 2.5 percent to $56 million. During the first half of this year, however, sales have rebounded nearly 18 percent to $9.6 million. By contrast, online ad sales are up only 9 percent.



The popular conservative site launched a monthly print magazine in early 2008. Then-publisher Chuck DeFeo described a primarily theoretical rather than financial goal for launching the publication. “The media landscape of today has grown so wide and so fast-paced that it is difficult to keep up with it all. As we looked to 2008, we saw an opportunity to provide something that captures the myriad of voices and distills it into one product.”


Townhall is owned by Salem Communications, a Christian broadcaster, which does not break out Townhall‘s financial performance. I also could not find any circulation figures for the magazine. But the publication is still apparently going strong, at least according to its own messaging. It describes itself as the fastest-growing monthly conservative magazine, and while Salem has discontinued another one of its magazines, citing a desire to focus on the web, it hasn’t done so with Townhall.



Maine’s VillageSoup, which started out as a local news website 13 years ago, has expanded aggressively into print and has since been an advocate of a multi-platform model. The company purchased two weekly newspapers in Knox County and Waldo County in 2003 and 2004, which it said it did in part to “build relationships with traditional newspaper advertisers who were not ready to move to online activity.” In 2008, it acquired six additional local print newspapers in that state — an acquisition that the company said would allow it to be profitable for the first time. An executive described it as the “goldfish swallowing the whale.”


The company has been trying to export its model to other news publications, offering them software that generates both print and online news formats and lets small businesses easily create their own listings and ads in exchange for a weekly fee. The company says about one-fifth of its revenue at two of its publications now comes from online, while the remainder comes from print.

What other examples are we missing?

4 Responses to “Can Digital-To-Print Work? Four Case Studies”

  1. I think this is a short-lived/niche opportunity that will last as long as advertisers are prepared to pay and until everyone starts using digital readers.

    Now, of course, it’s possible that the world won’t embrace the digital reader, but I don’t know one person with an ereader who wouldn’t prefer to get a really good eversion of their favourite magazines and newspapers.

    I doubt the paper market will be worth it for most publishers in a few years. It will be a high-end specialty product.