Print and GDPR: content’s hot new double act?

Amid GDPR and print’s floundering circulation figures, times are tough for publishers. But there’s an unlikely link between the two

GDPR and print are improbable bedfellows.

One is the hot new regulatory framework that everyone’s talking about, clamping down on data collection and sharing to make consent the order of the day.

The other is the dark horse of the content world, soldiering on despite treacherous conditions and scoring some surprising victories along the way.

Nevertheless, the latest tranche of print circulation figures paints a dour picture. Despite some uptick for domestic news and current affairs titles, the overall story was one of decline for the six months to the end of 2017.

Former big hitters such as Time magazine have nosedived. In the last couple of weeks, the print edition of NME shut up shop for the final time.

It’s a time of uncertainty for content creators as digital dwellers face oblivion at the hands of GDPR. Meanwhile print proponents watch their favoured format continue its slow decay. But there could be good news on the horizon.

GDPR turns the tables

Could GDPR be a latter-day millennium bug, promising much but delivering little?

As far as digital marketers are concerned, new regulations on direct interest and consent mark a sweeping change to how they use and share data. But marketing purveyors of the old school may be able to get out the other side relatively unscathed.

For electronic marketing, GDPR is the latest in a long line of regulations regarding what is and isn’t acceptable and what degree of consent is required. Examples include the 2003 Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, laying down the law for different channels and their use of cookies.

For print, however – mail, magazine circulars and so on – GDPR is clear: “direct marketing is a legitimate interest”. This “legitimate interest” provides a valid alternative to the much-vaunted need for consent.

What does this mean for marketers? One possibility is an unexpected reversal in fortunes for their print and digital offering. Online platforms have inadvertently placed themselves in the line of fire over the last few years as dubious activities, profitable at first, start to catch up with them.

We’ve spoken about this before in the context of fake followers. Buying data to extend your reach is undeniably tempting in the quest to meet KPIs, but as the regulatory gaps close the moral debt must be paid.

Print comes up trumps

In the world of print, where these gaps are less transient, marketers benefit from a greater degree of certainty.

A report by Royal Mail, for example, argues postal marketing is exempt from many of GDPR’s strictures. With fewer regulations to navigate and unaddressed doordrops on the rise, the report suggests a surprising number of big brands have pivoted to print already.

Admittedly taking Royal Mail’s expostulations about the resurgence of print with a pinch of salt is probably wise. But this all comes back to what we’ve said before here about the upheaval of GDPR.

Viewed negatively, this is an awkward time for publishers, with uncomfortable questions being asked about data use and sharing. But more optimistically, it’s an opportunity to take stock of what you’re offering and reassess the channels you’re using to ensure effective, transparent results.

Print is poised to receive an unlikely leg-up.

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