When news breaks that a traditional magazine company is looking to eliminate print and go all digital, the reflex assumption is that it’s a last ditch effort to keep a flagging franchise alive.

Take the report in yesterday’s Telegraph that Emap is looking at making some of its trade mags online only.

Editors from across the trade media and events business, which is jointly owned by Guardian Media Group and private equity group Apax, have been asked to examine “the best way of delivering content to users” between now and 2015, and to consider how they could reduce the frequency of print publications or phase them out altogether.

Emap to make weekly trade magazines monthly or online onlyIs this a death sentence for the magazines that are told to cut back their print copies, or suspend them all together?

Not necessarily.  The article notes one Emap title that’s already made the change:

In 2010, Emap changed film industry magazine Screen International from a weekly to a monthly title, prompting a jump in profits and reader satisfaction.

Before you shake your head at the battering that traditional print takes, let’s spend a second celebrating the vibrancy of good brands.

I read this story on the web from a U.K. newspaper.  It’s primary journalism, sourced and cited, reporting on a development at an important company in its market.  When I saw that the story was from the Telegraph I assigned it more authenticity and credibility than I would have from another source.

Those are all attributes of the brand that were established over time, in the traditional world, and transferred into a digital world.

That’s a basic reason why we shouldn’t discount the efficacy of a brand shifting from print to digital.  As the article cites, readers experience a lot of satisfaction when they encounter a good digital content experience.

So what’s the problem, beyond the nervousness that those mired in traditional media experience when they contemplate a world without the processes they are familiar with?

The business model, or  lack thereof.

A decade or so of dis-intermediation, of booms and busts, of market re-invention, of unthinkable valuations, of technology usurping tradition, of automation, self-serve and free has cast a pall over the traditional ways of serving markets.  But what publishers are realizing, as they re-engage in conversations with marketers and look for ways to intersect with, educate and entertain readers, is that the combination of new technologies, consumer behavior and marketer demands has created a new foundation for building profitable targeted media businesses on digital platforms.

That those are common buzzwords I just rattled off doesn’t make the observation any less true.

When you combine a flexible content platform with a targeted and interactive digital distribution program, you are able to give marketers solutions that deliver high-quality connections and drive business results.  You can package solutions that enhance multiple elements of their marketing program, from brand advertising to lead generation to education to content marketing to web traffic.

A traditional print platform can’t offer the flexibility or breadth of the digital platform.

So, the examination that Emap has mandated isn’t a death knell, it’s an opportunity for a group of long-tenured brands to focus their resources on meeting their market where they can have the most impact: online.

Does that mean print is dead?

Not at all.  The printed product continues to offer high impact, engagement and value.  It just is the highest fixed-cost aspect of the integrated media model, and because of that needs to be able to justify its place in the media mix not just for the advertiser but for the publisher as well.