Print versus digital publishing—each have their time and place

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Illustration by Greg Storey

I’ve always been a huge proponent of physical copies—whether that’s of books or newspapers or magazines. But recently—especially spurred by the pandemic and its effects on the industry—I’ve been reconsidering that stance.

Some of my strongholds on print copies originate from my love of books. I don’t envision myself ever willingly choosing an ebook or audiobook over one I can hold in my hands. But, when it comes to the future of publishing as a whole, I think I’m jumping aboard the digital bandwagon pretty late.

Better late than never though, right?

I would never dismiss the positives and strengths digital publishing possesses, but I was convinced print was still the preferred method. However, digital does so many things the physical simply can’t.

Digital publishing is a necessity for journalism

Poyntner published a piece regarding one college paper’s experience transitioning to a digital publication in the wake of COVID-19. As a former editor-in-chief of a university paper that saw over half of the print copies collecting dust in the stands each week, it hit a bit close to home.

The EIC of Bates College made the decision to transition to a virtual paper and completely switch up their publishing and digital strategy. And when you think about it, a digital paper—especially now when everyone is constantly online and the Internet presents countless opportunities—makes sense.

One weakness a print copy presents is its timeliness. When you have a paper that publishes weekly, if something major happens the day after the paper comes out, that means you need to wait six more days before you can publish that story:

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One of the most fundamental ways we built our reputation on campus was by quickly reporting breaking news on social media. Our digital team was doing this almost daily due to frequent updates on campus policies and COVID-19 cases last year.

Through digital publishing, stories can be published whenever—whether that’s later or earlier than expected. Now this isn’t by any means a new revelation, but as someone who experienced the pitfalls of waiting for Wednesday (our publishing day) to roll around and publish an important story, I do wish we’d invested more in a digital presence.

We had a website. We’d throw stories up there when the urgency demanded it, but without a real digital strategy—or following—those efforts didn’t amount to much.

There’s also the task of filling each page week after week. Sometimes, we’d have more stories than we had room and other times it was a stretch to get a quality article on every page:

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Additionally, you don’t have a set amount of space to fill on a website, unlike with print. With our digital-first approach, we were able to emphasize quality over quantity with our work, and it showed.

Looking back, there are definitely times I wish we could’ve shelved some pieces and spent more time on them. But a print paper did not lend us that luxury.

Physical copies still have their place

While print doesn’t make as much sense in a publishing schedule where material is released on a regular, frequent basis, its medium is warranted in more niche, less-recurring moments.

I think quarterly or bi-annually magazines still excel with physical copies. Things that typically require more time and effort can showcase that in their physical presence.

Books are the other obvious example. Community newspapers—especially where the Internet is not as accessible—warrant physical copies as well. While digital publishing affords a number of freedoms and can be more flexible, it is essential to remember that a lot of the population does not have access to the internet.

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As a blogger, take advantage of the realm your blog exists in. You have the opportunity to connect with readers outside of your immediate, physical community. You can publish on whatever schedule works best for you (but don’t let that allow you to be lazy).

Lastly, the world is becoming more virtual year after year. People are heading to the internet now more than ever to find answers to their questions. If you put in the work, your blog can be that beacon of information that they stumble across.

Michelle Newblom
About the Author

Michelle works on LexBlog’s Publishing team as the Editor and assists in managing and creating the company’s editorial and social content, as well as working with clients to ensure the overall success of their blogs. She has experience working in all different realms of publishing—including newspapers, magazines and research journals. 

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