How To Go Print First, Digital Next

If you wanted to branch out and start your own publication, how would you do it?

Unless you’ve been living in a ditch for the past ten years, your first step would be to start a website, right? Even I’ve championed the idea that new magazines and journals should start online.

But print isn’t dead just yet. And for a niche market, print’s a good marketing strategy.

In the name of full disclosure, I have contributed sporadically to Region’s Business, a political and business journal based in Philadelphia since its launch. When my first piece ran, I was ready at the keyboard to tweet the link to the launch edition. But there wasn’t one. The magazine, launched in August 2012, started off the old fashioned way — with a little start-up capital, ad buys, and paid subscriptions.

Editorial director Karl Smith always seemed one step ahead of the market. He moved seamlessly from various editorial roles in print to interactive media director at Calkins Media papers in Pennsylvania. When AOL’s came calling, he hopped aboard to launch the hyper-local news sites as a Regional Editor outside of Philadelphia.

And now, among tablet saturation and folding weeklies, he was taking a business and politics journal to the presses. It was time to figure out how, and why, that was possible.

Why Print First? 

According to Smith, it was sort of a no brainer. He and the the Region’s Business team saw a hole in the market for the type of targeted, long-form journalism they wanted to do. Of course, the overhead for printing a publication is more costly than just setting up a WordPress blog. But they were tailoring it to a very specific, targeted market: business professionals in the Philadelphia region.

 “We could have said, let’s create the best print version and the best website. But we wanted, first, the biggest bang for our buck. And secondly, to make a splash in the region.”

To get that bang, they print on cheaper newsprint and got good deals with the distributor. For the splash, they set up an “aggressive” distribution strategy for visibility. Had they just set up the website, they faced the chance of being lost in the cloud with all the other business oriented blogs. The print version, strategically placed, guaranteed their market would take notice

Moving to Digital

Still, the website is a placeholder. With each passing month, it’s become more dynamic, with more content and daily updates. But is it going to be difficult to get that off the ground, too? Smith’s not concerned.


“There will be some difficulties. But nothing compared to larger entities making that transition [from print to digital].

The people on the team came in knowing it was going to be both ways, so they have the right mind set. I don’t think it will be that difficult, but it will be lots of hard work.”


Tailor and Target Your Audience

With cultural and technological shifts, publications have to take a minute to remember what they’re doing. For a news oriented publication like Newsweek, it makes sense to stop printing and go all-digital to provide their sort of content to their sort of market.

When launching Region’s Business, the team put on their M.B.A hats. Says Smith,

 “Like any start-up, you have to have the passion and you have to make money. You have to figure out who you’re catering to and then figure out how to best serve them.”

Maybe it’s an app for reading political news, a Twitter feed for a TimeOut style dining guide, or, for the niche, C-suite market in Philly, it’s an old-school business journal. With a blog to boot.