Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, the cover of the first print issue of Newsweek.

The conversational buzz about the future of print in our increasingly digital world has reached a near-deafening level—and legacy publications are scrambling to respond to new challenges and demands. Most have made the transition to offer content both offline and online. Some have gone entirely digital. A few have shuttered their doors completely.

The latest “casualty” of this rapid evolution is nearly 80-year-old media stalwart Newsweek, which will move to purely digital distribution as Newsweek Global, beginning in 2013. That means, of the three most storied newsweeklies—U.S. News and World Report, Newsweek and Time—only Time will remain in print format.

Newsweek’s reasons are clear. The magazine has seen a 51 percent drop in circulation in recent years, and the money needed to keep the operation afloat as it currently exists just isn’t in the bank. Editor Tina Brown, who merged her “The Daily Beast” website with the magazine in 2010, sees this move as an opportunity to reinvigorate a historical property, but critics are concerned that print operations often fail to approach the digital landscape with a clear idea of the challenge that lies before them.

Will the magazine adapt its storytelling and reporting methods for a new venue? Are Newsweek’s editors prepared to compete against digital news behemoths like www.HuffingtonPost.com and www.CNN.com? Can they handle the onslaught of real-time feedback? And most importantly, is there an actual reader share for Newsweek in a growing, but still relatively small market?

On top of all this, the marketers who advertise actively in print are being forced to evolve and innovate their strategies accordingly, and there’s no question they’re facing several unique challenges of their own:

  • What works in print isn’t what works on a screen. The ads running in magazines are different in nearly every way possible from ads running online. The imagery, words, behavior, calls-to-action . . . all of these elements need to evolve to be more effective online, which puts burdens on both the advertiser to deliver effective creative and the magazine editors to create the right spaces for ads to live.
  • The audience is different—and has different expectations. Active users of news websites are different from fervent readers of offline newsmagazines, in terms of their age, demographics, ease with technology and much, much more. The capacity to target ads to content types is greater online—but the margin for failure is greater, too.
  • Success looks different. While digital venues offer more opportunities for measuring and tracking—a boon to advertisers—they also make missteps impossible to ignore. Marketers will need to set clear goals for their campaigns and be agile enough to change on the fly if their efforts aren’t panning out.
  • Expect budgets to change. Print advertising isn’t cheap to produce or cheap to place, but digital marketing brings a whole new set of needs and expenses—often with less money to invest. Sure, failed campaigns will be easier to gauge, but the cash and time to replace or adapt them may be thin on the ground.

Newsweek’s success as a digital-only enterprise is still a matter of speculation, and its capacity to adapt will be essential to the success of the new platform. I’ll be watching this space with keen interest, and I strongly believe marketers who work with all types of offline publications need to start adapting their strategies now. Newsweek wasn’t the first to make this move . . . and it certainly won’t be the last.