Advertising: Is the internet solely responsible for the demise of print media? Don’t think so.

Advertising: Is the internet solely responsible for the demise of print media? Don’t think so.

It’s no big news flash that newspapers and other print media are in a heap of trouble. As part of a last ditch “creative” distribution strategy my local publishers are literally throwing my suburban weekly at my house, totally unsolicited, hoping I’ll look at the ads and shop with their advertisers. Daily newspaper subscriptions are down 70% from just 15 years ago. Magazine subscriptions are down and the costs to renew subscriptions are dropping. Many newsletters are abandoning their print versions altogether because they are not profitable, not being read, and they’re no longer the most efficient or effective way to reach their target audiences.

Why is that happening? Obviously the internet has impacted the print media business. All the content that used to be available exclusively in print is now available to just about anyone online. For advertisers the internet delivers a much more trackable and accountable mass media product than print or other electronic outlets. The user interfaces for online news are becoming more flexible, more intuitive, and more customizable. Anybody can get what they want the way they want it when they want it.

News is a TV and online business now. Every day more and more readers are opting to read newspapers and magazines on their computers, their tablet PC’s or their phones. News organizations are merging and firing staff thereby eliminating duplication across the board to make themselves lean, mean, and viable as online-only content providers. A year ago Hearst Newspapers took their Seattle publication to an online-only status, never to publish the hard copy again. The industry landscape and consumers are both changing.

But a more sinister erosion in circulation numbers comes from the fact that hardcopy print media requires reading. Reading takes training and effort. The masses aren’t paying attention in class or putting forth the effort in this country anymore (see the documentary “Waiting For Superman”). Some states are turning out high school grads, as little as 12% of whom can read at a 7th grad level. That’s why.

Long before the internet was a daily activity in the lives of most people currently under 65, subscription levels at almost all daily newspapers and magazines were dropping off sharply. In two major dailies I was tracking in the early 90’s circulation had dropped by 35% from 1981-1990. Surprisingly ad rates had increased over 80% in that same time period. But that’s a topic for another day. The fact remains that readership was dropping precipitously.

Hard copy newspapers and magazines are not gone, nor will they be in the next 20 years. There are still too many people over 50 who grew up holding the daily news in their hands, not to publish a hard copy. A lot of Americans didn’t grow up with an electronic screen of one type or another in their faces for 3-10 hours a day. Those people tend to function better in hardcopy. They have no incentive to change right now. But they will.

Readers vs Readers

Over the next two decades today’s older tech accessible hard copy readers (not savvy, just accessible) will start getting iPads, e-readers, or other tablets for Christmas and birthdays from loved ones and others. Due to familial or peer pressure they’ll break them out eventually discovering how convenient these hand-held devices really are and how much immediate access to information they grant. At that point it won’t be profitable to print hard copies any more.

Then all that we’ll have left are the high-end coffee table quarterlies (Architectural Digest, Cigar Aficionado, etc.). But no one will be reading them. They’ll just look really nice sitting on the coffee table collecting dust. At that point anyone who wants a hard copy of the local or national daily or weekly will have to shell out $4.00 to $20.00 per copy to have one delivered.

The print media’s evolutionary path is clear, but the timeline is not. What I do know is that to navigate it any advertiser needs expertise that’s hard or impossible to get on their own. I won’t write my own legal documents. I’ll pay an expert to do that. If you’re looking for an expert to help you find the most direct route to your best new customers, contact FluidDriveMedia today.

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