Print as a premium offering

“While print may be less and less the product, it’s certainly a product — and an exciting one.”

Six hundred years after Gutenberg, 2017 may just be the year that print finally comes into its own.

katie-kingsburyNewspaper print revenue, both from subscriptions and advertising, has been in free fall for more than a decade; last year saw the worst decline since the recession. In the United States, print is no longer the media for the masses but a bespoke product to be managed — which might be the best thing that ever happened to it.

In 2017, news organizations will ramp up investments in print as a premium offering. Many of the biggest newsrooms have already started to carve out print desks, which manage the traditional ink-and-paper package as a product with dedicated resources. This started as an effort to free newsgathering teams to concentrate on digital and the masses it serves. But what’s happened is these smaller, isolated teams report they’re putting out higher quality, more tailored products.

“I am quite convinced that our paper is better than it has ever been,” says Tom Jolly, associate masthead editor at The New York Times. Jolly has overseen the Times’ news report in print since October 2015.

This outcome is less surprising than it might sound. A newsroom divided against itself cannot stand. A dedicated print desk almost inevitably gives the print edition more love than it has seen for years, as editors’ attention has increasingly gone toward digital.

In 2017, more news organizations will come to see print as a platform, taking advantage of its best self, particularly as a means to display large graphics, ambitious illustrations, or life-sized photos.

At The Boston Globe, we’ve already experimented to this end, using print wraparounds to present our June editorial calling for the ban of assault weapons and an October narrative piece about a 100-year-old trolley disaster. Both projects had rich online experiences, but it’s impossible to deny the impact of their front-page presentations.

Then there are the business realities. Print still pays the bills for many news organizations, including the Globe, and that won’t change soon. The pressure to keep the readers and advertisers who are still paying for print satisfied is real, and likely why we’ve seen recent experiments in improving paper and ink quality and other enhancements.

I’m not among the recent chorus questioning whether publishers should have gone digital. For me, that question is settled. But while print may be less and less the product, it’s certainly a product — and an exciting one.

For generations, paper newspapers have been seen as expendable, fish wrap and kindling the day after they hit your stoop. But by its very nature, print is an artisanal product — you have to literally go out and cut down a tree to produce it. Treating it as such will yield rewards. We’re already seeing it. And 2017 will certainly bring more.

Kathleen Kingsbury is the managing editor for digital at The Boston Globe.

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