Invest in your core: Make your print product look great
It is time for us to start designing our print products the way readers want to see them. Media “experts” all over the world will tell you to ignore your print product or not invest much into it because the internet is going to take over soon anyway.
Well, after 20-years of the newspaper industry still making a damn fine living (some better than others) off their print products I think the end is still far away.
That leads me to think that we should be re-investing in our print products and the first thing most people need to do is look at their design and update it.
When traveling around the mid-west I rarely see newspapers that I think are visually appealing and prompt me to pick up off the rack.
We have to start designing every single issue of our papers like we have to sell every copy off the rack. Period.
That means starting with great, not good, art above the fold, and make it big. We need catchy headlines, and a flag that doesn’t look like it was made sometime in the early 1920’s. If your layout person isn’t involved in budget meetings then you are doing it wrong. Get them involved from the start and they can help with visuals throughout.
When we took over The Clarion, our first paper, we stayed up until 6 a.m. ripping the paper apart and putting it back together again with a brand new design right out of the gate. We didn’t want our paper to look anything like the old paper. New owners equaled new life and new design.
A lot of people thought we were crazy and that we would alienate our core readers and too much change too fast would be a problem.
We were just too dumb to listen I am sure they left thinking. By the time our paper came out that first week we got tons of compliments though.
People were telling us on the street as we delivered that our little weekly paper looked like a “real newspaper” and “very professional.”
Our readers wanted something they could be proud of, that was easy to read, and visually appealing and that is just what we gave them.
When our company merged with Kansas Publishing Ventures, one of the first things we did was break “The Buyer’s Edge of South Central Kansas” up. We made it “The Edge” and started going with big bold art on the cover and a modular design inside.
The Edge is a shopper, but we were getting a lot of compliments on the new layout and advertisers and readers responded.
There are few dailies, much less weeklies, that I feel look as good as our papers look week in and week out. Yes, even our shopper.
I am not some amazing designer or employ the worlds best either. We just invest some time in it, talk about it, and train staff to care about artwork whether that mean a great photo or an infographic, map, or a mugshot.
Readers like art. Writers, the majority of people running weekly and small daily newspapers, seem to hate it. I am not sure if it is their ego, laziness, or ignorance, but most publishers and editors don’t seem to get it.
We will cut a few paragraphs out of a story to make sure we can get artwork on a jump page. Our writers grumble occasionally, but they know that most of our readers will appreciate it, which means more of our readers will actually read their story instead of seeing how long it is and skipping past with the thought of not having the time.
I am also not one of these people who will tell companies they have to go out and buy Adobe or the latest greatest product to make their papers look nice either. We use Photoshop and Quark Express (yes, we do and make no apologies about it) and have no problem.
I know of folks that use freeware design software like Gimp and Scribus to design their products without any trouble and none of the investment. There is no excuse. Sure, those free programs don’t have some of the bells and whistles, but they won’t keep you from making that two-column photo into a four column photo and toning that photo correctly.
The future of media, at least the immediate future, is still in print for newspapers not named the New York Times or Washington Post (I am willing to bet they make a good bit of cash off print too through).
Our print papers still matter and are used by our communities. If they aren’t, you have a far larger problem then just a redesign, but that would be a good start.
If the future is print, then the future should look pretty and have lots of great art because that is what readers who buy print want. Sell each one like you have to sell it off the rack, as that will help with making it look gorgeous, and finally, don’t just say it’s too expensive to make it look nice. It’s not, and anyone who tells you your company has to upgrade to all the latest stuff is just selling you a product and shouldn’t you be able to see that?
Kansas Publishing Ventures isn’t home of the only good designers and we certainly aren’t the most talented people in the industry either, yet our papers look amazing, and yours can too with just a little effort.