Is print worth the investment?

That’s the question of the moment as inflation rages and telcos, electric co-ops and public utilities begin budgeting in earnest for 2023. As a not-for-profit co-op watching the bottom line, the team at Pioneer Utility Resources knows every dollar counts.

As storytellers by trade, we went to the source – your members – to evaluate how effectively Utility Pioneers share electric and broadband utility stories. And, to answer the question, what do your magazines mean to readers in this digital age?

Pioneer and the editors from other electric cooperative magazines partnered with American Main Street Publications (AMP, our industry’s advertising agency) and MRI-Simmons to conduct national and regional readership surveys. In addition to national trends, the survey offers insights from readers of three Pioneer magazine brands: Ruralite, Currents and Florida Currents

MRI-Simmons Vice President Paul Sammon shared the survey results with our team and other utility magazine editors in August. Among the questions readers answered:

Q: Do readers want a printed magazine in the digital age?

A resounding “Yes.” The survey found a powerful preference for print continues.

Nearly 90% of readers prefer magazines in print form, while 10% favor a digital format. 

It also showed a very strong preference for printed magazines as a source of utility information. The findings mirror those of other types of membership or association publications (think travel, warehouse club, food, etc.) and match a Statista survey of all magazine brands. People prefer print over digital magazine formats.

Q: What about younger readers?

The numbers are nearly identical. Eighty-nine percent of 18- to 34-year-olds prefer the printed magazine, which offers them discovery, a sense of community, and important energy news they can use.

Other national studies show even gamers prefer print. Paul said a recent study of a video-gaming magazine (their audience is much younger) found 77% of readers favored print over digital.

Pioneer was the first utility magazine publisher to ask MRI-Simmons to include the question of print or digital preference. Other magazine publishers worried they might not like the answer. Readers spoke loud and clear.

Q: But is the printed magazine still the best communication tool for my utility given rising costs?

Reader loyalty and time spent with each magazine is off-the-charts high. 

Utility magazine readers engage with the communication you provide at levels that make our researchers smile. There is huge brand loyalty. 

After reviewing these findings, Paul concluded two things:

  1. The high reader loyalty reflects effective continuous communication. Readers see your magazines as a steady trusted voice and valued resource. He said digital communication does not create the same kind of ongoing bond.
  2. The time spent with each magazine is remarkable given the hurried world we live in.

“The fact that your readers choose to make time to read your magazines is noteworthy,” Paul says. “They don’t have messages ‘pushed’ to them. They choose to invest their valuable time in your publications.”

Q: Could a digital-only magazine effectively reach members and consumers at a cheaper price?

The penetration rate for printed magazines into a household is 100%. Most magazines get read and passed around several times, MRI-Simmons research shows. In contrast, the standard open rate for digital newsletters and email is about 21%

The established reach of your print magazine is tough to match.

Instead of framing your communication strategy as either print or digital, consider how print and digital communication channels can work together to maximize engagement. Effective communication these days is multifaceted (which is part of the reason we launched our Ruralite podcast last year). 

Q: Why do print communications have so much staying power?

Research points to the answer:

  • Print is permanence
  • Print is time spent with an object
  • Print is a sense of place

In other words, your printed magazine is something that can be tangibly held. It engages the senses. It is recognized as trustworthy because the content has been carefully gathered and curated on behalf of a utility. 

Research conducted for the News/Media Alliance (formerly the Association of Magazine Media) found print is better remembered than digital communication.

“Magazines are invited guests into readers’ homes… welcomed and embraced,” former Association of Magazine Media President/CEO Linda Thomas Brooks often says when discussing the value of print magazines. 

We couldn’t agree more.

Q: Do readers know their magazine comes from their local telco or power provider?

The national MRI-Simmons research found 97% of electric utility magazine readers know the magazine is provided by the local utility. Ninety-seven percent also say their local magazine brand is a name they trust. 

“This kind of ‘trust’ is invaluable,” Paul says.

That is tremendous recognition of the connection you’ve forged with them. 

Q: Do magazines have sway and influence on readers?

The survey showed that 77% of readers took action because of reading the magazine. These actions run the gamut; everything from cutting out and using recipes and sharing stories with others to making a home more energy efficient and attending utility meetings.

Q: Which content do readers of Ruralite, Currents and Florida Currents like best?

Energy topics and local content get the biggest nod.

  • Energy topics were enjoyed by more than 80% of readers.
  • More than 76% of readers enjoyed local content.

All in all, nearly every subject area in the magazine has plenty of devotees. Topics that rated highest include:

  • Energy-efficiency tips
  • Local feature stories
  • Utility news 
  • Recipes and food
  • Gardening
  • Home improvement
  • Personality profiles
  • Local and regional travel

Q: What should I plan or think about covering on my local pages?

Besides what you’re already doing, readers expressed an appetite for community event listings and content on recreation, outdoors, agriculture/farming, emerging tech/gadgets, health care, solar energy, fitness and electric/hybrid cars.

Q:  Any fun facts about magazine readers?

A. Twenty-one percent own a vacation or weekend home. Your readers are also gardeners, pet owners and travelers. And they love their trucks!


Back to the original question:

Is print worth the investment when every penny of your budget counts?

If you want connection and the ability to inform and educate those you serve at a level of engagement unparalleled by other communication channels, the answer is a clear YES.

That said, we know all too well the economic challenges we all face. Pioneer has absorbed extraordinary print and publishing increases the past couple years. We have been able to do so by diversifying the company and spreading administrative costs over a bigger organization.

We stand ready to help you manage economic shifts to maintain robust, engaging and efficient communication solutions. 

Our aim is to protect the incredible engagement, connection, and brand loyalty that sets your utility communications apart.

If you’d like to talk with us about how to make the most of your magazine and other communication channels, or are interested in exploring magazine publication, please reach out. 

At Pioneer, we’re built to share your story.

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