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5 Problems With Advertising in Regional Print Magazines

August 1st, 2022 | 4 min. read

By Julia Elliott

5 Problems With Advertising in Regional Print Magazines

Believe it or not, magazine advertising is still a gold standard. After all, 82% of people trust the ads they see in print, the International News Media Association reports. Print lends a sense of legitimacy that's tough to top digitally.

You might be considering an ad in your local or regional publication. Perhaps it's a publication you already respect yourself. Or maybe your competition is running ads in it. FOMO is strong!

But is print the perfect pick for you? We have unique expertise in that at Zoe Marketing & Communications. We've run regional parenting magazines in southeast Michigan and Chicagoland for 35+ years. Frankly, we've seen it work and not work for clients.

In this blog, we'll cover five key reasons why magazine advertising might not be quite right:

  1. Circulation can be an inexact science

  2. The geography is broad — too broad, depending on your business

  3. Tracking the number of people who see you and are interested in you is tricky

  4. Long-lead deadlines might not give you the time you need

  5. Print costs are higher than digital costs

When we're finished, you'll know precisely why print advertising can have drawbacks. And we'll tip you off on what might work better.

1. Circulation can be an inexact science

One of the first questions you'd ask a publication is, "What's your circulation?" The answer to that question is nuanced. There are two layers of information:


This is the exact number of copies distributed daily, weekly, monthly or whatever the schedule for that publication is. A regional magazine might distribute 25,000 copies in public places, with readership subscriptions, etc.


More than one person consumes a single magazine or newspaper. That's is why publications share their "reach." Determined with a certified audit, "reach" tells how many people a publication reaches, not how many copies go out. So, for 25,000 copies, "reach" might be more like 50,000 people if at least two people read each copy.

These are fair and fine statistics — but they're not as trackable as digital metrics. That means you'll get a solid estimate, but the number of eyeballs on your ad likely won't be as high.

2. The geography is broad — too broad, depending on your business

Like national publications, regional magazines have a broader reach. Broader than those who would actually travel to your business.

For instance, let's say you're a marketing director for a preschool. Your print ad will market to people who live in areas that are not close enough to choose your school for their kids. Still, you'd be paying to reach that entire audience. So that's a wasted part of your investment.

If you're a family attraction or a health care system with various locations, that's different. When people drive from an entire region to visit you, broad circulation can be an asset.

3. Tracking the number of people who see you and are interested in you is tricky

It's harder to track print publications' return on investment or ROI.

Digital ads offer better tracking

Simply put, digital advertising does allow you to see the ROI of your campaign. That's thanks in part to UTM codes, which track where your URL traffic is coming from. Ditto pixels, which are little pieces of javascript code that help retarget your ads to folks who clicked on them.

That's not the case with print. There's no substantive way to get a comprehensive picture of how much your print campaign paid off in clicks and conversions.

Digital platforms offer limited print tracking

There are also some clues you can look for in the digital world. These include: 

  • Flipbook format: You can access some metrics if the publication offers a digital format. "Digital replicas," offered by platforms like Issuu and BlueToad, show numbers of users and pageviews over time. Publishers may or may not share this data.

  • Your website traffic: You can also look for organic or direct traffic spikes to your site when the magazine or publication comes out. There could be a correlation to your ad.

That's solid insight. It's still limited compared to digital marketing tactics, though. And it can be tougher to know who's engaging with your ad.

4. Long-lead deadlines might not give you the time you need

Print publications — particularly magazines — have a timeline for creative design work and printing. You must book your ad well in advance of it "hitting newsstands." These deadlines could curtail your goals, depending on your needs.

Expect a publication's lead time to be several weeks, if not months. Those times increase if the publication is bimonthly or quarterly, for example.

It's not a quick turnaround. And it can be difficult to align for something with an expiration date or seasonal timeliness. You have to plan in advance.

5. Print costs are higher than digital costs

The cost of print advertising is higher than digital advertising. Or at least it should be, or the publication is selling it at a loss!

Depending on the publication, a full-page ad could range from a few thousand dollars up to $100,000 or more. For a lower investment of $1,000-$10,000, you can run a monthly digital campaign. Factors driving print costs include: 

  • "Hard costs": Your ads are helping underwrite the cost of the editorial content, design teams and their work. These production costs are more expensive than digital ads, pure and simple.

  • Print costs: This process has set costs too — and paper is pricey.

  • Limited space: More publications have downsized their print products. That means space is at a premium, which can further drive up costs.

Next steps if you're considering print advertising

As powerful as it can be, print advertising has challenges. As you now know, circulation stats aren't as exact as digital. And it can be tricky to track how many people actually see (let alone act on) your ad.

Also, the geographic reach might be too extensive for your business. Factors like longer lead times and higher costs are common hindrances, too.

Of course, print has its perks. Ads in a reputable publication can increase the audience's impression of your legitimacy. And print advertising excels at branding. But remember that buying digital ads or a social media campaign is easy and fairly inexpensive by comparison. And, depending on your company's goals, it might be more effective, too.

If you're looking for print marketing to reach women and families in southeast Michigan and Chicagoland, Zoe Marketing & Communications can help. Take a closer look at our print magazine circulation and reach, or click here to connect with us to learn more.

Still not sure — or curious what other options are out there? Discover:

Print might be right for you, but there's also a decent chance it's not. The goal is to reach the right audience as effectively as possible. Keep that in mind when considering print advertising.

Julia Elliott

For 17 years, Julia Elliott crafted strategies and stories for Zoe, along with its sister companies, Metro Parent and Chicago Parent. A deep background in journalism helped her create customized content marketing to drive client success.