Orbell Communications

Communicating Your Message

Factors Influencing Content and Design of Printed Publications

Posted by jorbell on November 15, 2008

In an earlier post we looked at the basic considerations in designing your own newsletter. The following piece takes the subject a little further by examining other factors that influence the content and design of newsletters, newspapers and magazines.

I will take about issues to consider with online publications another time but for now, we shall look at the traditional printed way of communicating a message.

Audience Research

Audience research must be carried out to determine whether there is actually a market for your particular publication. Creating a reader profile or a demographic for a publication is particularly useful and will typically include information such as age, gender, political persuasion and social class of the target market.

If it is a specialist publication the editorial style must assume a certain level of knowledge from its readership. There is particular onus on making sure the information is up to date and correct as that is what will keep the readers coming back on a regular basis.

Some magazines for younger readers or the image conscious can expect to use slang terms or colloquialisms with bold colours and type. For the older generation the layout is more likely to be more conservative but may use a larger size for easier reading.

Either way it is the research that will determine what the reader will want and whether the finished publication is value for money in terms of words per inch.

Area of Distribution

Once the target market has been established it is vital to ensure that the economics of a geographical area are considered before publication in particular region. For example, it would not make good commercial sense to sell the upmarket magazine Horse & Hound in a poor inner-city area.

Relevancy to the readership is paramount and targeting certain regions that more closely match the reader profile is more likely to boost sales.

Another important factor is that of competition. Even if the demographic matches the target market it may be unwise to launch in an area where there is an established and popular alternative publication.

Editorial Control and Audience Expectation

Readers of a newspaper or magazine will expect the editorial content to pretty much match their own ideals in life. This covers political issues and family values and straying from what the reader expects will almost certainly alienate them.

Pandering to those readers expectations is telling them what they want to hear though there are times when controversy can be equally appealing such as with the satirical magazine, Private Eye.

The reader should be respected at all times and as such they will expect to read a publication that has a consistent tone in a recognisable house style. The reader likes to know what to expect when they read their favoured publication but if the position of articles changes along with the tone and design of the pages it makes them uncomfortable.

Supermarkets change the position of certain goods in their stores from time to time to boost foot flow around other areas of the building but it is never done on a regular basis because it can be annoying to customers. Newspapers and magazines do similar things with a re-brand but those changes remain constant with sections remaining in roughly the same spot in each issue.


The finance of a publication is affected by a multitude of differing issues. These include:

  • Price per copy
  • Use of colour and/or black and white printing
  • Quality of the paper used
  • Pagination (number of pages)
  • Photographer and journalistic fees
  • The number of copies printed (circulation)
  • Type of advertiser
  • Publication frequency
  • The technology used for the production of the publication
  • Marketing and advertising costs

Again the demographics of the readership is important in determining the style. A cutting edge lifestyle magazine will need to be a glossy affair with high quality photographs to encourage advertisers targeting affluent customers. Poor quality paper using only a few black and white photographs may be cheaper but will not attract readers or advertisers.

The importance of advertisers in larger run publications cannot be underestimated. If the split between quality content and advertising is such that many advertisers are clamouring for limited space, a publisher can easily charge premium rates and will have no trouble filling those pages each issue.


To be attracted into advertising in a publication an advertiser needs to offer something of interest to the readership. A way of doing this is for the advertiser and publication to co-operate in the creation of features and advertorials.

With advertising playing such an important role in funding it would make no sense to feature stories that cast those advertisers in a negative light. The balance in coverage should be deemed fair or those advertisers won’t be coming back.


The ownership of a publication more often than not dictates the content and style. The political views of the paymaster general may be prevalent and their views on the subject matter and the issues affecting the readership.

Legal and Voluntary Controls

As has already been stated, articles should not be defamatory and not only because of the possibility of losing advertising revenue. There are legal issues to consider which could in turn lead to potentially crippling court proceedings.

An ill-timed release of a news story relating a criminal hearing could bring about a contempt of court charge especially if it contravenes reporting restrictions. This is an area where journalists need to be extremely cautious because litigation can be extremely expensive.

Publishers need to be wary of data protection rules, copyright issues and being politically correct regarding race and disability. Some other publications such as aviation magazines may also run the risk of breaching the official secrets act.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has a code a conduct which despite only being guidelines gives information on what the standard practice is expected for journalists. These rules are purely voluntary but they are ignored at the journalist’s peril.

In Summary

The content and design of publications are affected by great number of factors and publishers are advised to give a lot of thought to the points listed above before embarking on a launch. The key is the market research and the creation of a reader profile. If the readers needs are met in the right way in terms of editorial style and advertisers the publication has a very good chance of success.


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