Audience Engagement
3 mins read

Print is the new vinyl: An approach to attracting new subscribers


What is the most popular background in our COVID-life Zoom calls? Books.

We use the most up-to-date and easily accessible technology for face-to-face contact surrounded by one of the oldest technological delivery systems of information: books.

As we started a publishing company at the very beginning of COVID-19’s impact, we knew we would have to be flexible, and most importantly, figure out a way to create a real connection with our readers.

No doubt, our digital lives are a very coveted space to spark trends, move industries, sell us something, or use our information as the product to sell to advertisers. Everyone appears to be always-on, energized by instant gratification, and being ‘in the know’.

Given the challenges faced by physical distribution networks, as well as trends that pre-dated COVID-19, we well understood the attractiveness of going all-in on digital. But, we also had experience in the arts and business start-ups.

Sometimes a counter-cultural approach is the best way to make an impact and bond with an audience.

Our common digital overload presents a unique opportunity for the print medium, which is why Liberties decided to start as an in-print publication.

Any potential publication subscriber today is someone who is digitally fluent and quite active across multiple news services, social platforms, search engines, and shopping channels. Business, political parties, and other ventures are long past the point of breaking down generations between those on different sides of the digital divide. (The only digital divide today is the very important issue of economic access, which fortunately has the growing attention of governments, companies, and organizations.) The generational divide no longer exists, so why should it exist in readership?

We believe that in going ‘old-school’ there is a way to counter the over-saturation of “immediate media”: where every story feels as though it is being shouted out; every analysis prizes speed over depth. Print publications resonate because the very act of slowing down to read a book parallels the act which created it: writers take the time for breadth and depth.

Everyone appreciates that reading is different for in-print and on screen. With our screens, we are used to quick glances, easy scrolls, sounded notifications. A book is held, steadied. Have you watched someone’s eyes as they read a screen as opposed to a book? The quick darts as opposed to the quiet focus?  Whether read on a bus, in a coffee shop, at a desk, or in bed, time becomes part of the event. Now that our digital world is so dominant, the book experience is letting readers rediscover the value of slowing down.

As for any publication, at the beginning and at the end is content. Packaging, format, delivery systems are only elements that create different relationships to that content. Just as vinyl offers a different tactile and listening experience from streaming, so to the book instead of screen.

For revenue from print subscribers and from booksellers, the challenge is to change one’s expectations of ROI, to build for a long-term relationship. Print or digital is not a zero-sum game. Rather is matching the content to the inherent value in the choice of technology and approach to distribution. Surely there is comfort in knowing that book, as a technology, has held its own for almost six hundred years.

For Liberties, there is something quite exciting and fresh in using and holding an old technology to discover and inspire something new.

With a book, one is in the stream of hundreds of years of learning and exploration and at the same time very much in the present tense. Why do we collect antiquities? Why are museums still in fashion? Why do we bring home tokens from our travels? Why do we save our children’s school art? Why are those books behind us on Zoom? We want to be in touch with our own histories.

Liberties – A Journal of Culture and Politics is an old idea to inform and inspire today’s new world. The power of print lives on.

Bill Reichblum
Publisher, Liberties journal

Bill Reichblum is the publisher of Liberties – A Journal of Culture and Politics. The quarterly will begin publication in the fall of 2020. The current slate of writers includes Nobel Prize winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, National Book Award winners, Booker Prize winners, US Supreme Court Justices, and other writers with noted followings in the U.S. and abroad. Liberties journal is a publication of the Liberties Journal Foundation, a nonpartisan organization based in Washington, D.C. devoted to educating the general public about the history, current trends, and possibilities of culture and politics.