Print Publishers Should Pivot Back To Print

Numbers don’t lie -- unless you’re talking about the listed height of pro athletes, or click-through rates on mobile ads.  Those aside, here’s the math behind this radical proposal for premium print publishers to start selling their online ad impressions to print buyers:

1.  $43 billion spent on U.S. online advertising last year.

2.  77% of that goes to nine companies, none of which have ever published a magazine.

3.  That leaves $10 billion left on the table.

4. $5 billion is then spent, hell-bent on pure direct-marketing success.

5.  That leaves $5 billion for premium print publishers to fight for, along with hundreds of other sites that have a legitimate shot at these dollars.

6.  Total print spending (consumer magazines, B to B, newspapers) is roughly $17 billion, based on published rate cards.

7.  So total print spending is more like $9 billion.

8.  $9 billion is a much bigger number than $5 billion.

I'm not suggesting that print publishers abandon their online business.  What I am proposing is they sell online as “added value” in the bigger pool with warmer water.

The online buying market, as an astute Chris Carter pointed out in an email to me, doesn’t value the individual publisher.  Online buyers favor impression aggregation across thousands of sites driven by audience targeting over site-specific buys.  Online buyers are telling premium print publishers “we’re just not that into you.” Print publishers continue to stick around, hoping things will get better as their display CPMs get worse (entire site CPMs, not specific line items).

Selling online ads to online buyers wasn’t a misstep for premium print brands, but a necessary step..  Now there is clear and established monetary value for online ad impressions on magazine Web sites, and print publishers can use this value to drive more print revenue.

For example: Buy 24 pages and get two weeks of site exclusivity as added value.  Buy 12 pages and you earn one week. 

For larger sites that don’t want to break their sites into 52 weeks for sale, create impression-based packages that offer 100% SOV per page view just for print buyers.  So the offer then looks like this:  Buy 18 pages and get 5 million high-quality branding impressions (which represents a market value of at least $100K).  

Success for this approach would then live in the hands of sales management, who would have to be firm on the increase in print spending required to earn this online added value.  The question then becomes, does the print buyer get the incremental dollars from the print budget, or does he or she wrestle it away from the online one?  My question is, why does that matter?

The fears of trying this approach are outdated.  They include the thought that if you give away something for free that you currently charge for, you can never charge for it again.  The second is that print buyers can only buy print. 

Neither of these fears is in play.  First, you are not giving away online for free, you are using its value to unlock more print dollars, so it’s just creative accounting.  Second, print buyers can only “buy” print because that’s how the budget the client handed them is defined.  But in this case, online packages are “added value” just like “production and creative costs” are often embedded as added value to drive print spending, because print buyers don’t have access to a creative budget, either.

The best part of pivoting back to print buyers is that now print-centric salespeople are far more educated about selling online.  So they can talk to print buyers they have better relationships with, and confidently promote and/or defend the “added value” these online ad packages deliver.

Online buyers have been throwing cold water on the value print publishers deliver online for years.  It’s time for magazine publishers to swim in warmer waters and make print buyers look like heroes by earning impression packages that deliver clear branding value for “free,” provided they buy enough pages.

Driving pages this way will make magazines look healthier, drive more revenue for the right reasons, and inject much-needed confidence into a medium that has lost it.

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7 comments about "Print Publishers Should Pivot Back To Print".
  1. Brian Quinn from Triad Retail Media , June 19, 2014 at 11:51 a.m.
    Ari, Always fun when you drop provocative bombs. But, how can you talk about what premium magazines should do with digital and not mention the word "tablet"?? Discuss. As for you notion above, there is no doubt that magazine publishers will struggle to get direct access to digital media buys. But, here's another word you did not use.."programmatic". If big publishers want to give up the quest for direct access to digital media budgets they can access via programmatic pipes and set price floors so they will get somewhat fair CPMs. And, finally...online impressions should NEVER be offered as added-value, but used for packaging for top print partners...with pricing fully transparent. Cheers, Brian Quinn CRO Triad Retail Media and... print expat!
  2. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing, LLC , June 19, 2014 at 12:14 p.m.
    Brian as always, good to hear from you and I completely disagree with everything you have written.
  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , June 19, 2014 at 3:29 p.m.
    Print publishers must be more creative in ways to increase circulation with different kinds of partnering. Not much has changed in the past 50 years.
  4. Seth Ulinski from AdTech Advisory, LLC , June 19, 2014 at 4:26 p.m.
    Ari, even as a digital first guy...these #'s tell an intriguing story. I think print integrated with native/high impact ad units is compelling...maybe a bundled price versus giving the digital as a bonus (as you know, digital egos are easily damaged).
  5. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing, LLC , June 19, 2014 at 4:42 p.m.
    @Seth -- can't bundle the price b/c print buyers wont have the "budget" to pay for online so you have to make it "added value" which has such a negative connotation for no good reason -- I always took the most valuable item on the plan and made it added value to drive the sale of the other stuff -- in this case I am saying yes I have really valuable online packages for your client to enjoy and at "no cost" so you can sign off on this -- but in return I need you to pay for more pages than you ever planned on buying -- revenue is revenue who cares if it comes from the print budget. Yankee fans (yes I will go there) pay a ridiculous amount of money for those luxury seats down low and the "food is free" aka added value -- see my point now?
  6. Seth Ulinski from AdTech Advisory, LLC , June 20, 2014 at 9:59 a.m.
    @Ari -- as usual, where there was previously darkness...you bring light. I do see your point -- although I think free Fenway Franks via seats on the Monster would be a stronger analogy.
  7. Chris Carter from Campo Carter Partners , June 20, 2014 at 10:34 a.m.
    Another thought is to take the print and online combined with a big idea that solves a client problem, then go directly to the client.