Illustration by Jared Downing.

Why we’re back in print

We’re not betting on a print revival to ensure Frontier’s survival, but we believe print still has an important place in the media landscape.

It’s been a long four months, but the Frontier magazine is back. The new issue will be on sale from Thursday (though Frontier members can read an online version of it here).

When we suspended our print edition in September because of the second Yangon lockdown, some may have wondered if it was the last time a Frontier issue would land on their desk, doorstep or supermarket trolley. COVID-19 has sounded the death knell for many newspapers and magazines around the world ­– would it also be the end for Frontier?

In truth, we never considered stopping the print edition permanently.

Not because it’s lucrative ­– like many print publications these days we rarely carry advertising, and subscription rates, while high by Myanmar standards, barely cover the cost of printing and distribution.

Why, then, do we persist with print? We do it because we believe print still has an important place in any media landscape, particularly one like Myanmar’s where social media is so dominant. It might seem counterintuitive, but social media only underlines the value of a physical product: when so much content feels fleeting and ephemeral, the printed word carries a special weight. We believe it sends the message that we are serious and that Frontier is here to stay.

But it’s also a function of what we do. At Frontier, we love deeply reported, long-form journalism, and we believe this is usually best absorbed away from a screen ­– something many of us wish to break free from. Given print readers pay a premium for a physical copy of something they could (eventually) read on our website, we suspect they feel the same way. 

Of course, we are not betting on a print revival to ensure Frontier’s survival. Almost exactly a year ago, we launched a membership programme to support our newsroom operations. We began developing memberships because it was clear that advertising had disappeared and wasn’t coming back. Appealing to corporates with advertising budgets had never been our strength; it was always the loyalty of our regular readers. 

We decided to build on this strength by creating a membership programme that would bring together people who care about high-quality, independent journalism. We also developed some new products ­– our Daily Briefing and Media Monitor ­– to help members stay up-to-date with events in Myanmar. 

The support we’ve received over the past 12 months has been nothing short of amazing, and it helped to sustain Frontier through a very difficult year. We’re looking to build on this very solid foundation in 2021 by taking our membership programme to the next level, with new products and platforms and, hopefully, the resumption of events for members. 

But Frontier doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We’re part of a media ecosystem in Myanmar that is struggling under an economic downturn, declining readership and a narrowing space for critical reporting. 

Myanmar’s media, which was for so long held up as an important symbol of the country’s liberalisation, is facing a sink-or-swim moment. Many well-established media organisations may not survive. We hope that our efforts to build a sustainable future can provide inspiration to others, but it will be up to each media house to find their own way forward, based on their own DNA.

What is clear, at least to us, is that the financial support of our readers matters more than ever. We’d like to thank all of our members for joining us on this journey and supporting our independent reporting. 

Even if they’re not Frontier members, print readers are still an important part of the Frontier community. If we stopped our print edition now, we’d be letting them down, and that wasn’t something we were prepared to do.

We hope they enjoy our first print issue of 2021 ­­– and the many more to come in the years ahead. 

This editorial was first published in the January 14 print edition.

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