The definition of “print” is changing, and changing the way advertisers reach consumers
It seems barely a news day goes by without someone, somewhere, proclaiming the “death of print,” sometimes with lament, at other times with a perverse sort of mean glee.
Some weeks ago, you will recall, it was announced that the venerable, 77-year-old newsweekly Newsweek was sold to hi-fi stereo magnate Sidney Harman for a reported $1. The magazine, which employs a staff of some 300, had lost $44 million since 2007. Steep declines in print ad revenue appear to be the main culprit. (And we’ll see how that Newsweek-Daily Beast deal turns out.)
Daily and weekly newspapers have also been hit hard, with the Huffington Post reporting in 2008 that newspaper ad revenue declined a record $2 billion in the third quarter of that year alone. Business prospects in 2010 appear to be a little more upbeat, as the nation works to climb out of recession and advertisers begin to re-invest, especially in newspapers’ online versions, though newspapers will still spend $1.6 billion less this year on their core product---news-gathering---than they did three years ago.
Looks bleak, doesn’t it?
At first blush, it does. And that, to me, is a sad thing. I all but grew up in a newsroom. My father reported, wrote and edited for the Sacramento Bee for more than 40 years. The first time I visited him in the newsroom, paper copy, pounded out on IBM Selectric typewriters, was shunted around via pneumatic tubes, as were memos and notes---the “email” of the day.
The “happy persuability” of turning the page
Although I’m an online guy---and have been for years---newspapers have always held a fascination for me. Even with shorter news cycles and their lack of clickable links, newspapers have some advantages that news viewing in the digital space sometimes lacks.
The first is what I call a “happy perusability.” In short, you never know just what you’re going to get when you turn the physical page. Online, you’re always pointing and clicking on the thing you want right now, short-attention-span-theater style. But as reading technologies advance, as we shall see, it’s not an “either/or” situation of print vs. online, anymore. There’s a benefit when the two complement one another---for both readers and advertisers.
With a newspaper---or a magazine---you’re offered a whole page of stories, a grab-bag of news and opinion happening across the globe. There’s a serendipity when you suddenly come across a story that piques your interest, something you didn’t know would interest you before. Another benefit of reading “the paper” the old-fashioned way is the relaxing, contemplative zone it forces you into. You read a story in its entirety---if you really want to know about it---and then you move on to the next. A good newspaper is like a companion, sitting there next to your morning coffee or tea.
Where will your facts come from?
Lastly, there’s the (hopefully) solid reporting and analysis that comes from well-trained journalists. It would be a shame to lose that. After all, where are all of us bloggers and Tweeters and Facebookers going to glean reliable facts, if not from reliable reporters writing for reliable publications? Of course, there are reliable news sources emerging that are strictly online. Websites like Politico and The Huffington Post are making inroads into territory previously only held by newspapers and newspaper websites. Yahoo! itself has recently dipped its purple toe into the local news reporting business, employing real, experienced journalists, where we previously only carried aggregated but carefully curated content.
Despite all the hoopla about its demise, perhaps the “death” of print has been, as Mr. Twain said, “greatly exaggerated.” In fact, I believe that this is actually a very exciting time for both newspapers and magazines, as well as for the advertisers who invest their dollars in them.
On January 27, 2010, Apple unleashed the iPad, the latest and most advanced tablet computer. About the size of a magazine and lighter than the summer issue of Vanity Fair, three million of the touchscreen devices were sold in just 80 days (more than five million were sold in the first six months after launch).
iPad apps quickly began rolling out of Silicon Valley, with major newspapers and magazines offering apps that allow users to peruse their content in a way similar to the way they do with a hard copy. Users simply “turn the page” to see what will surprise them next. In addition to that happy perusability, the connected device allows users to see vastly more content than is available in printed editions, and, moreover, allows advertisers to deliver highly targetable, measurable, performance-based ads to their prospective audiences.
Here’s how “happy perusability” works for The New Yorker on the iPad:
Speaking at the 4A’s conference in San Francisco last March, Wired Magazine CEO Chris Anderson enthused that tablets “could provide the most measurable advertising ever.” And tablet users don’t even have to be online to consume ads--- ads’ performance is measured once the device is synced to the Web.
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