Beyond Print Toolkit: Reimagined print editions

Rethinking the utility of print publications

By Shannan Bowen

June 27, 2024

Teodora ART / Shutterstock

Most publishers have embraced digital strategy as their priority, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t a valuable future for print. News organizations are applying some of the same product-focused strategies that they leverage for their digital work as they reimagine the role print can have in their audience’s media diet and discovering new use cases that can widen audience reach and drive new revenue opportunities.

In this guide we’ll take you through a few examples and ideas for print editions, whether it’s changing the way newspapers are designed or creating new print products that fill community needs. Though change is hard, sometimes offering a new approach to a news product in a familiar format can retain engagement and satisfaction from longtime subscribers, while also having the potential to appeal to newcomers.

The essentials

Redesigns of newspapers have never been uncommon. Layouts have been updated to modern design standards over the years. Shapes and sizes of papers have also changed from time-to-time, many becoming slimmer and shorter. More recently, though, news organizations have moved beyond format changes and experimented with new use cases to meet changes in readership, transitions to digital-first strategies, and the strains on the print business model.

Here are a few types of print edition use cases news organizations have explored:

Reimagined Sunday editions: McClatchy announced in 2021 that it would redesign and refocus its Sunday newspaper editions across the company. It called it a “reimagined” print edition that provided deeper analysis or investigative stories on the front page. “The Sunday print editions now look like a magazine with a cover. Stories are timely in a general way but not at all pegged to the day’s news cycle,” described Poynter’s Rick Edmonds. He observed that the new editions “featured front Sunday pages with one picture and a teaser headline introducing a multiple story ‘in depth report’ inside. In Kansas City, the topic was — surprise — the Kansas City Chiefs, aiming for a third consecutive Super Bowl appearance after a humiliating 2021 loss. In Wichita, it was the safety of public splash pads.”

Digital breadcrumbs: Guiding print readers to digital offerings is also a use case that’s surfacing for newspapers. Also part of McClatchy’s Reimagined Print strategy, each newspaper included QR codes to help readers easily access the website or related digital products or services. As Monica Hill, then-editor of The Miami Herald, explained, “We’ll also use QR codes to connect our readers to expanded digital coverage and additional updates at and Using QR codes in the newspaper will be as easy as the ones you use to read a menu at a local restaurant. In fact, one of the codes we share will give you all the information you need on some of the area’s best and newest restaurants.”

New print products: Special editions aren’t exactly new, but publishers are getting creative with opportunities for new print products that serve a different purpose than the traditional newspaper, or even one-time products that package together important stories around a specific theme. These products can be attractive to both subscribers and advertisers. For example, nine North Carolina student newspapers launched a collaborative project about mental health on their campuses, publishing more than 30 stories online and in special print editions for their college newspapers. Special editions also have revenue benefits, often attracting sponsors and advertisers drawn to a high-profile topic like a sports championship that might include a local team. 

Aligning print and digital experiences: Though print redesigns aren’t exactly a new tactic, it can take years for newsrooms to invest in updating their print products. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s team redesigned the print newspaper in 2023, but realized it needed to align its digital and print products to ensure The Inquirer had a cohesive brand identity across all touchpoints with its audiences. “We had this proposal for the newspaper, but the website was a completely different visual language, so we had to help them a little bit online too,” said designer Luke Hayman in an article for PRINT. “We didn’t redesign the website, but we certainly made some modifications to the navigation, the homepage, and some of the other key pages. Most importantly was making sure the typefaces carried across print and digital.”

Key indicators

One of the most promising indicators that special print editions hold promise is an experiment launched in 2023 by the Deseret News in Utah. Noticing success from a direct mail advertising product, Deseret News executives launched a new print publication called “The Digest” that’s delivered monthly to more than 120,000 homes in Salt Lake City. According to Poynter’s profile about the experiment, the edition was profitable just one month after launching. “The result has been great enthusiasm from advertisers because this is now, I think, the largest newspaper product (in Utah). It has the largest distribution of any print product in the state that I’m aware of,” publisher Burke Olsen told Poynter. “It reinvigorated our advertising base.”

The Digest includes republished stories from other Deseret News publications but is noticeably distinct. “We designed the product to look different, so people didn’t think they were receiving the Deseret News but something different,” Olsen told Editor & Publisher. “Utah is one of the fastest-growing states, and the Deseret News Digest was an opportunity to introduce our product to new residents.”

Strong market and audience research are necessary to lay the foundation for such a new print product, especially when facing risky print costs or declines in overall print readership. As the Deseret News found, advertisers appeal to the reach of the new publication into zip codes where their target customers lived. But they are also intentional about where to send The Digest — and to whom. The Deseret News wants The Digest to feel like a separate product so that paying subscribers don’t decide to abandon their paid products in favor of the free special edition, Poynter reported. “We tend to target established ZIP codes, more residential homes than rental areas, people who tend to have higher incomes — more disposable income — and that’s because that’s attractive to our advertising base,” Olsen told Poynter. “Over time, as we figure out on behalf of our advertisers what works and based on what kind of subscription uptick we get, we might focus on some ZIP codes more often than others.”


Drawing inspiration from The Digest’s success, here are a few takeaways and performance indicators to consider when testing a new print edition:

  • Audience positioning: Are you targeting a new audience or a loyal, paying one? Be sure to measure subscription churn rates when introducing a free print edition alongside a paid one to be sure that loyal paying subscribers do not drop. 
  • Revenue planning: Are you gaining revenue by charging for the edition, through ads, or other paths? Set clear revenue metrics upfront to help you understand what it will take to be profitable for this new product, taking into account printing costs, staff time, and other resources.
  • Testing: Unless you’re launching a one-time print product that won’t be repeated, it’s best to test with a small market size. For example, when McClatchy launched its Reimagined Print editions, the company rolled out the changes in a few markets first before expanding to all publications. The Seattle Times conducted experiments on just 2% of all its print subscribers when making changes to the product. If you’re publishing a new edition like The Digest, try sending to a small pool of people first to get early feedback and to test the operations of the product at a smaller scale. Then, incorporate any changes into the full roll-out. Publishers can minimize risk and identify early opportunities through this approach.

Here are some additional resources to guide new or reimagined use cases for print publications:

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