Put down that bestselling business book, pause the podcast, and forget what your college professor may have taught you. It’s time to listen to Radiohead.

Having turned the digital media world upside down with their 2007 “pay what you can” album In Rainbows, the boys from Oxfordshire have now turned to the much-maligned world of print with its recent release, The King of Limbs.

Pegged as the first “Newspaper Album,” the band first offered its fans a crack at their music online, followed by vinyl and CD releases.

Radiohead also assembled large pieces of artwork, 635 tiny pieces of art, and a newspaper in an oxo-degradable plastic bag, enabling fans to experience its brand in both a high-tech and high-touch fashion.

And the English band is just one of many brands making the jump from Web to print – and beyond.

Print as new media

There’s an increasing argument afoot that print is making a comeback – as if it ever really went away. With online content and digital toys aplenty, the simplicity and tangibility of print somehow seems new and exciting again, with some marketers now even talking of print as a “new” form of communication in their marketing mix.

While we may think of Web-to-print in the context of made-to-order photo books, simple brochures and greeting cards, brands both big and small are creating content and communities that start online but ultimately move back to print as an end product.

“It’s no secret that we are engaging in more media as consumers every day… including mobile, tablets, online and new ones that have yet to be created,” opines Joe Pulizzi, a leading author, speaker, and content marketing evangelist. “Print is still a part of that mix.”

By Design Publishing, for example, has emerged as a Web-to-print platform that arms real estate agents with a turnkey way to publish in print their very own bi-monthly magazine.

Real estate agents simply use an online platform to assemble articles related to home, décor, and travel. With their name and photos emblazoned on the front cover, and throughout the printed magazine, the publication claims to provide helpful and entertaining content that can keep a real estate agent top-of-mind with their client base.

Since its inception, By Design Publishing has distributed approximately 12 million copies of its personal branding magazines to agents’ mailing lists.

“I believe we just need to recognize the best way to create, find and re-imagine our content marketing,” says Pulizzi. “Historically, we’ve focused our content marketing on deliverables, like a custom magazine. After that, we stepped back and said, ‘well, we have this online outlet that we need to promote with.’ Thus, the print-to-Web process was born – we create the content for the print deliverable, then recycle the content online.”

Today, Pulizzi says that since most content is created digitally, we think about the process as “Web-to-print.” In reality, he says, it’s “Web-to-everything.” In other words, content hatched online doesn’t just stay there. It spreads everywhere.

Image via simplemarketingblog.com

One story equals ten deliverables

Content experts, like Pulizzi, advocate a smarter approach to distribution. An idea that first starts online needs to be thought about in all the ways content is distributed, including social media, PR, e-newsletters, tablets, mobile, and print.

Even a long-form article for a custom magazine can have dozens of additional stories tied to it that can help achieve marketing objectives.

“So, instead of one story equals one deliverable,” Pulizzi says, “we need to think of one story equals ten deliverables multi-channel.”

Putting his money where his mouth is, Pulizzi launched Chief Content Officer (CCO), a print magazine that also publishes in online and mobile-ready formats. Pulizzi says that from his experience, consumers still believe that if something is written in print, it’s more important.

“That’s not necessarily true, but that’s the perception,” Pulizzi says. “No one ever turns down an opportunity to be interviewed or promoted in the magazine. They don’t call up and say, ‘I’d like to be featured in your blog.’ That never happens. It happens every day in print.”

Shashi Bellamkonda, Director of Social Media at Network Solutions and a regularly featured technology speaker, agrees. Bellamkonda says that while he’s entrenched in digital media on a daily basis, as a consumer he still subscribes to print media because he’s keen on “the feel” of a daily newspaper.

Bellamkonda says that in Washington, D.C. he sees local print newspaper circulation (dailies, weeklies, and monthlies) holding strong, as well as amateur projects on the rise thanks to outfits like Customink.com, where users have the ability to easily design their own print materials and t-shirts.

In a world increasingly influenced by digital marketing, Bellamkonda adds, the “what’s old is new again” print strategy can sometimes cut through the clutter.

“I pay more attention to my direct mail pieces, as there is so little of it coming,” Bellamkonda says. “Also, due to the overload of e-mail, a well-delivered snail message has a very good chance of being opened.”

Image via campsite-studio.com

We are all publishers

With interest in the Web-to-print model brimming, tech startups and industry giants alike are trying their hands at the old print game.

 

LocalsGuide, an early adopter, has used the Web-to-print model for years to leverage social communities capable of generating hyperlocal news. By soliciting articles, interviews, and photos from citizens, LocalsGuide is able to produce a print publication that is mailed to homes throughout Southern Oregon. This community-powered publication has become a model for local news all over the United States.

There is also an onslaught of Web-to-print tools geared towards consumers. Services such as Blurb and Lulu allow amateur writers and photographers to design books and portfolios online, and receive a printed product in the mail. Another unique undertaking, a partnership between Wikimedia Foundation and a German startup called PediaPress, allows people to create custom books from crowdsourced wiki content.

Demonstrating that the concept works equally well for both large and small organizations, the innovators at Google have launched their own magazine in the U.K., an online publication called Think Quarterly, with hints of print distribution to boot.

Called a “breathing space in a busy world” by Google, Think Quarterly’s first edition packed 62 pages that could be consumed in a full-screen view to mimic the magazine experience. While Google is careful to clarify that Think Quarterly is not a consumer magazine, 1500 printed copies of the first edition were sent to its partners in the U.K.

Thanks to Web-to-print technology, says Pulizzi, “we now have the tools that we can effectively be publishers. There are no barriers to entry for any company to compete at a high-level in niche content areas.”

Until recent years, it was a tall task for non-media companies to develop multiple-channel content strategies. Today, Web-to-print can serve as one of many methods for brands to get their stories out to everyone, everywhere.