Print publishing will make a comeback as GenZ owns the slow media trend

April 3, 2024 | Amanda Green

The media industry has been evolving before our eyes for several years now. Traditional print publications that used to have hundreds of thousands of subscribers are closing up shop. This is mostly due to an increase in production costs combined with a decrease in advertising revenue. Digital publications filled with affiliate links and freelance contributors have taken their place. In the 20-oughts we entered the Buzzfeed era of media and publishing where affiliate marketing and freelance content contributors became commonplace for just about every genre of press. But in the 2020s, something has started to shift that makes us think print publishing will make a comeback, at least in certain niches. A slow media trend is starting to form. In some cases, magazines that completely disappeared are relaunching in print. 

What happened to print press? 

According to an article published in Fortune in November 2023, “America has lost one-third of its newspapers and two-thirds of its newspaper journalists since 2005.” The article sources a Northwestern University study and claims 2.5 newspapers closed each week in 2023.  As a writer who also works in the PR industry, my LinkedIn feed is filled with journalists looking for career opportunities in the wake of a layoff. Science journalist Purbita Saha posted her frustration on the platform writing, “I’m frustrated, incensed, and appalled that the owners shut down a pioneering publication that’s adapted to 151 years worth of changes in the space of a five-minute Zoom call.” Saha was a Senior Editor at Popular Science. In November 2023, news spread that after 151 years, Popular Science will stop publishing the magazine as we know it. The publication had already moved from a print magazine to a digital version in 2021, but now they are doing neither. The change at Popular Science and other publications is not surprising. The Washington Post eliminated 240 jobs through buyouts in 2023. NPR, Condé Nast, and others also cut jobs in 2023 and these are hardly the only examples.

In the case of Popular Science, a digital media company called Recurrent Ventures purchased the more-than-a-century-old publication in 2021. It’s the same company behind other big media brands such as Field & Stream, Dwell, and Domino among others. The company said in an interview with The Verge the outlet needs to “evolve” beyond its magazine product. It’ll be investing in other forms of content. So, the PopSci brand isn’t going away, it just won’t have a traditional magazine. Not in print. Not online. The content has evolved into something else. 

A rise in slow media

While those traditional publications grapple with their future, a bit of a renaissance is occurring in niche subculture genres of magazines. Much like we saw millennial hipsters make record players cool again, younger millennials and GenZ consumers are turning away from their digital lives to live a bit slower. Many of them don’t participate in social media. They want to surround themselves with objects that showcase the qualities that define them as human beings. They love vintage items and natural shapes, such as the scent and feel of fresh print held between their fingers. It’s kicking off a rise in slow media, an obsession with print magazines that make readers feel a certain way. These are much different than the advertisement-filled lifestyle publications of the past. That kind of stuff is easy to find online. Today’s new and growing print magazines are luxury items. They are decor. They are works of art. They are objects. 

We’re already seeing the print renaissance unfold in certain niches – like Cherry Bombe Magazine, which offers a fresh take on food trends and currently has over 10k subscribers to its print publication. Kerry Diamond, Founder & Editorial Director of Cherry Bombe says she hopes what drives her loyal following, “is a love of our mission and a love of printed matter!” The Cherry Bombe network can credit some of its success to it being so much more than just a magazine. It’s a mixture of traditional and new media. Cherry Bombe includes a gorgeous website, an Instagram following in the hundreds of thousands, and other digital content. Diamond says, “Brand cohesiveness is always Important. It definitely helps to have a network that includes podcasting, events, social, newsletters, and magazines. In the beginning, all we had was a magazine. I don’t think we even had a website!” Yet now, her channels are growing. 

SAVEUR, a 30-year-old food and culture magazine, was forced to cease its print operations but will now relaunch as an indie brand. The new Editor-in-Chief Kat Craddock announced in November 2023 a return to print. She says on the website, “Frankly, the old-school, high-volume print model isn’t sustainable—at least not for SAVEUR. Traditional magazine publishing tended to rely on selling subscriptions for a song, sometimes even giving them away, just to build massive circulation lists. It’s no secret that the pool of potential subscribers isn’t what it used to be, and even huge circ numbers don’t promise the ad revenue they once did. Meanwhile, the parts of our brand that make it special—the ambitious culinary travel writing, first-in-class photography and design, and rigorously tested original recipes—are expensive to produce. We also have a renewed dedication to offer fair and equitable compensation to our contributors. Therefore, the model has to change.” She goes on to explain how they are simplifying their supply chain and focusing on sustainability and luxury. The first issue of the new SAVEUR will drop in March of 2024. You can subscribe to it here. 

In the outdoor niche, Adventure Journal is a printed quarterly magazine “dedicated to the thrill of exploration and the joy of motion in the great outdoors.” There’s no denying that the look and feel of the publication is important. Printed right on the homepage of the publication’s website are details on the type of cardstock the magazine is printed on. It also caters to an environmentally conscious consumer by mentioning that their operations are solar-powered, printed on sustainable paper, and that they plant a tree for every copy sold. An annual subscription (4 issues) is $60. 

Similar publications are being born to service every cultural interest, hobby, and niche.  Different Leaf, a cannabis industry mag, has an amazing layout team. The covers are vibrant and colorful. AFAR is an award-winning travel media outlet filled with essays that travelers will actually want to read. Plough is an older magazine dating back to the 1920s still alive today servicing the Christian community with an aesthetic that compliments today’s slow life movement. Cabana is a sophisticated design and lifestyle publication that some consider the mother of all coffee table press.  Enchanted Living celebrates people interested in faerie culture. These outlets are, undoubtedly, smaller than something like we saw in the peak lifestyle era of Good Housekeeping or Real Simple, but they service their consumers well and match the trend of a waning mainstream pop culture. 

Slow Media in Regional Print & News

The slow media movement isn’t only happening in niche areas. It is starting to take hold in regional publications as well. West End Phoenix is a newspaper that covers West Toronto. The paper’s website printed right onto its homepage, “slow print for fast times.” It’s filled with colorful art, quality articles, and photography making it an object as much as it is a newspaper. That tagline might just perfectly sum up the motivation behind the slow media movement and a return to print publication. 

Emily Withnall is the editor of an arts and culture magazine in New Mexico called El Palacio Magazine. It’s the oldest museum magazine of its kind and is exactly the kind of publication that new customers looking for magazines as objects relate covet for their personal use. Carmel Magazine is doing something similar in California’s Monterey Peninsula in that it relies on its cultural community to keep it relevant during a time when so many print publications are closing up shop. This is a trend that could continue in 2024 as indie editors and consumers vow to find creative ways to keep these publications afloat. 

Likewise, readers are looking for new sources to replace their local newspapers that are all too often owned by private equity firms or massive media conglomerates. The focus on quality journalism that may or may not drive clicks and views to “go viral,” but rather services a community has slowly been disappearing. The result – as outlined by a Northwestern University study – is an increase in political polarization and “news deserts” in rural communities across the United States. News consumers are wising up to it and are seeking alternatives. This cultural reawakening could bring print newspapers and regional magazines back from the brink. 

One small town paper in Virginia found that transparency may be key to its survival. Editor-in-chief, Anne Adams turned to crowdsourcing and donations during the pandemic and found that people want to keep local news alive. Adams says, “The Recorder was on its well on its way to closing in the spring of 2020. When businesses shuttered, our advertising dried up quickly. And yet, it was arguably the most important time for our residents to have news they could trust. I had no choice but to ask for help and I did that in an editorial. I asked for help in ways that sought to also help my community. (See a copy of that below). That plea was answered by readers from all over the country and they literally kept us going with donations for about a year.” The paper also more than doubled its subscription and newsstand rates, bringing circulation up to about a third of its revenue. “We also knew we had to provide something that was worth that price,” Adams says. “So, we vowed to publish no fewer than 40 pages a week, no matter our ad count; double the color pages; use more and larger photos; bring the “good” people-oriented news to the front and relegate meeting coverage and other news toward the back.” She says it’s about celebrating the positive aspects of life in her special community.

Adams admits she’s still trying to figure out a long-term plan for profitability, but for now, The Recorder continues to service its community as one of the only sources for local news and information. “I had always known The Recorder was important to our readers, but the cards and letters and calls I got during that time really drove it home,” Adams says. “According to (readers), the news we bring is critical to their quality of life — The Recorder remains relevant. Our content is hyper-local, and written by veteran journalists. I think the most important key to our success is our staff — they live here, raise children here, and are as invested in our area as much as anyone else. They care deeply, and they work long hard hours at low pay because they are dedicated to our mission.” 

For a long time, especially in bigger metropolitan areas, newspapers have had an “if it bleeds, it leads” attitude. You won’t find that at The Recorder. Instead, you find stories about people. “We cover every aspect of life here. There is no other thorough source of news. We cover every athletic team, including a local community college. We are at every school board meeting and graduation. I’ve always quipped that any child who grows up in this area has virtually their entire life documented in our pages.” That’s the kind of voice and service that could bring slow media back to life in communities across America. 

The rise in slow everything

As noted earlier, part of the prediction of a slow media trend and print publication resurgence has to do with a cultural shift within the younger generations. The internet makes it easy to seek out lifestyle flavors that cater to individual interests. People will spend money on items that make them happy, and I personally know that fresh print with a good layout can create good vibes. We’ve read about slow travel, slow fashion, and slow food – it only makes sense that slow media has a resurgence as well.