How Print Magazine Publishers Can Benefit From Artificial Intelligence

20_WEB_OBP_Blog Image_2.11.20

The digital revolution seems like it would complicate things for print magazines. With the rise of AI – artificial intelligence or machine learning – it may have publishers second-guessing the future of the industry. But we believe that if you take another look at the situation it gives you reason for hope. You might be positioned to grow your subscriptions and your advertising revenue.

News Up, Gossip Down

A few years ago, digital technology and the internet seemed to be carrying out a takeover that spelled the end of ink on paper. Then print publishing rallied. It found it still had an audience, and a pretty big one at that. It’s still holding its own – at least in part.

Way back in 2017, Steven McIntosh, an entertainment reporter for the BBC, wrote, “Print sales have been declining for several years as readers find their content online – but now, something unusual is happening.” He explained an unexpected trend in publication purchase trends.

“News and current affairs magazines are becoming more popular – but celebrity, gossip and fashion publications are still struggling.”

According to Fashion Monitor editor Sarah Penny, as quoted by McIntosh, readers are looking for an “authoritative voice” to help them understand current events, and they’re finding that voice in print magazines. Readers want fact-based analysis they can hold in their hands. This conclusion goes a long way toward explaining why magazines such as The Economist have seen an increase in sales.

So how do these observations apply to your magazine?

Welcome to the Quasi-revolution

The print industry’s continued existence shows that it is clearly capable of evolving. Print magazines have changed and adapted. They’ve learned how to use appropriate tools to keep the presses running. To do this in the 20th and 21st centuries, though, publishers have had to forge an allegiance between digital and print. By finding ways to make these media work together, they’ve discovered new pathways to success.

Ana Lobb, vice president of media and publishing at MPP Global, thinks the solution to the print vs. digital battle is “taking a customer-centric approach to engage new subscribers and deepen their relationship with existing ones.” So how does that work?

Lobb believes the first step is understanding that the choice between digital and print is a false one. Instead, the decision comes down to “what mix of print and digital.” What matters, Lobb says, “is understanding how customers want to engage with the publication, and then making it as simple as possible to do so.”

So what’s happened so far, as magazines have embraced digital tools, is not really a revolution. Print has not been deposed in favor of digital, but it has been forced to accept new ways of doing things. One of these is AI.

How Print Publishers Can Grow With AI

“In the case of publishing,” claims a blog post at, “far from being a solution looking for a problem, AI really does have the potential to transform an industry that is under enormous pressure to stay relevant with consumers and to deliver results for advertisers and partners.”

At bottom, AI is a computer program, one people create to collect feedback and use that feedback to change the way it responds. This process leads to more and more effective operation. The post continues with, “it’s that responsive, adaptable nature that equips AI programmes to help publishers navigate the disruptive environment they face.”

So how does AI’s learning capability apply to your print magazine?

Lobb, believes the mix of print and digital is where AI can play an important role. Instead of hoping readers will figure out why your magazine is so great – with advertisers following suit, you can force the issue by giving them what they want almost before they know they want it.

Catering to individual tastes is of particular importance these days because, as Beth Braverman at says of print magazines, “Many of the brands that have survived . . . appear poised for a profitable future by leaning into print as a pivotal part of their strategy.” And how are publishers leaning into print? By finding their niche and exploiting it aggressively.

Braverman cites the Harvard Business Review and Popular Science as examples. The Harvard Business Review cut its frequency by 40% but kept its $99/year subscription price. It has seen a 10% increase in subscriptions. Popular Science cut its frequency from monthly to quarterly and raised its subscription rates. It also enhanced its visual content and opted for a better-quality paper stock. It saw subscription yields rise 30% per year.

Why were these publications and others willing to bet on their radical-sounding strategy? Because they used data analysis to find out what engages their readers.

Now add the power of machine learning to the mix. Think of data analysis coupled with the ability of the computer program to learn from the analysis and respond appropriately and almost instantaneously. This innovation allows publishers to discover what their audience wants without forcing their limited staff to ferret it out. Instead, said staff can spend more time producing the content that attracts readers – and advertisers.

That What’s New in Publishing blog post cited earlier puts it this way: “AI also allows publishers to understand their audience at a much deeper level. By analyzing the mass of data created when users interact with their sites and cross-referencing with user’s stated preferences when they register, publishers can develop detailed profiles so they can automatically serve content and ads that are highly likely to appeal to users.”

Yes, the posts refer to digital magazines, but the power of AI applies just as thoroughly to print. Content really is king, especially in the niche publication market. It’s just one more example of how print and digital, together, can be greater than the sum of their parts and keep print magazines a valued part of the publishing world.


Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.