While investment in print media declines, standing out online in the overcrowded long tail of blogs, sites, influencers and organisations all demanding consumer attention is harder for brands than ever before.

However, according to one expert from the print industry, print media may be exactly what brands need to cut through all that noise.

"Providing a unique experience that resonates with individuals is essential - and that's something real printed media does," Stuart Rising, head of commercial print and production at Canon UK, told Mediatel.

"Offering content that consumers can actually touch is a savvy decision in a heavily digitised world."

According to Rising, consumers are increasingly demonstrating a preference for tangible products; in 2017, the sale of digital books fell whilst purchases of physical books soared.

"It's not just consumer preferences that have changed; businesses are rediscovering print too," he said.

One digital-first company that has successfully used print to connect with consumers is online fashion retailer ASOS, whose magazine was the UK's most widely-read quarterly fashion magazine last year. Originally a free direct mail initiative, the magazine shifted almost 500,000 copies in the final six-months of 2017 and is now being sold by the company on a subscription basis.

This year has also seen Facebook launch its own quarterly magazine - Grow - which is aimed at business leaders and distributed in airport and train business lounges. In a blog post, Facebook said that the decision to launch a physical magazine was made "with journeys in mind", as "business leaders have limited time for long reads at work."

However, Rising said there are several reasons behind the movement of digital giants into the physical print space - and "trust is by far the greatest."

"In an era of rising fake news and privacy concerns, confidence in the validity of online media - and companies - is low. So organisations that have made their name in digital are utilising well-established and trusted formats such as print to bolster their credibility by association," he said.

Indeed, recent research by Ofcom revealed that 80% of consumers rate magazines as trustworthy news sources, whilst less than half as many say the same for social media.

Meeting the needs of publishers

However, if print is to make a revival, Rising said it will be essential that print companies evolve to meet the changing needs of publishers. Digital transformation is driving demand for high productivity and low costs, as well as fully automated and integrated processes, which must be embraced to remain relevant and sustainable.

Already printing companies are evolving to better serve publishers and media owners with smart technologies, including mass customisation technology, greener production and print-on-demand.

"As such, media companies and publishers can enjoy the benefits of a traditional format, but one that's evolving with modern demands such as environmental factors and production and storage costs," he said.

Print companies are also utilising IoT-accessible sensors and networking technologies to provide businesses with real-time insight into enterprise printer usage, with which publishers can streamline processes to increase performance, efficiency and control of printed output.

"Against a backdrop of efficiency and automation, media owners will demand bespoke services, tailored to continually shifting needs," Rising said.

"The true value of print companies will be using experience coupled with data insights to meet these unique requirements as cost effectively as possible."