Which of these items had a price tag of about a dollar during the summer of 2010?
A) A Whopper Jr. B) A song on iTunes C) A can of Coke (12 oz.) D) Newsweek E) All of the above
Very good -- you guessed E. And, I'll bet you knew that you can enjoy that burger and soft drink while grooving to your single fave tune, all without being saddled with the $50 million or so in debt that comes with snagging Newsweek.
In many ways, the challenges facing the newsweekly are a metaphor for the fight for survival for all print-based media.
For those of you under 30, let me put the significance of its decline into terms you can appreciate: envision a world without YouTube. Think of what your college life would have been without Wikipedia. Imagine how disappointed you'd be if Snookie and the "Jersey Shore" crew all up and moved to Greenwich, Connecticut.
Not long ago, Newsweek was as big as any of these cultural icons. It was a great American brand, on par with most of the important names of its era. It is not an exaggeration to say that Newsweek's rivalry with Time was as contentious as Coke and Pepsi, the iPhone and the BlackBerry, and the Yankees and pretty much every other team in baseball.
To compete in the new world, Sidney Harman and his publishing contemporaries must invest in creating momentum for their individual brands and for the medium as a whole. That means generating: (1) content excitement; (2) sales excitement; (3) a real appreciation that print works as a marketing venue.
Like it or not, there are echoes in the halls of agencies and clients alike that "nobody reads print-based brands anymore."
This is a difficult debate to have objectively, since magazine circulation is roughly 90% from subscriptions. Do people actually read all of those issues? Or do they pile up next to the nightstand unread? (Weeklies are especially vulnerable to this knock.)
Unfortunately, the media research measuring print cannot match the immediacy of its primary competitors.
Online provides nearly instant readings of clicks, traffic and acquisitions; television has overnight ratings. Print research often lags actual readership by many months, leading many buyers to discount its value. Print media buyers often buy based on perceived editorial vitality: Who's hot? Who's not? Buyers have clearly made a decision about Newsweek, whereas bold redesigns have kindled interest in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Fortune, Time and several other print stalwarts.
The iPod generation is about accessing only the media you actually want. But it's important to remember that the splintering of audiences began before Wally first roughhoused with the Beaver.
Vertical media with targeted content and smaller, well-defined audiences have been burgeoning for decades. More focused platforms (we're all in love with digital, but analog does this, too) promise better relevance to their constituents, and a more interested audience that marketers crave. (We had other terms before engagement.)
Big offline media in crowded competitive fields -- Newsweek, network TV prime-time scripted programs, major market newspapers and more -- run the risk of choking on their scale.
By contrast, much print is actually positioned to thrive. What other medium is so targeted contextually, behaviorally and demographically? (Think Golf Digest, Money and Wired)
By charging its audience a significant cost to access content, targeted print does what many digital venues cannot: verify that the people who consume them are immersed, engaged and predisposed to interact with them. Advertising is anything but intrusive in these environments; it is an integral part of the content that the audience pays for.
This logical sell needs to be taken upstairs.
Magazines have a strong history of being aggressively sold, not bought. Print publishers need to remember where they came from -- remember the guys who taught you the business. In an RFP world, publishers have to sell to the planners and buying groups, of course, but can't let them commoditize the product.
Publishers need to take their case to different levels of management at both the client and the agency. These are the people who can hear a compelling proposition when there's not a CPM buy on deadline, appreciate ancillary assets that contribute materially to marketing goals, and collaborate on creative solutions that make the advertising work harder.
It takes talent to take the sale upstairs. Experienced reps generate excitement that overrides the numbers, because they know business, not just media. They can work with marketers to create the programs that prove print's real worth (which transcends the reach and cost considerations). When most publications are cutting marketing and sales budgets, thinking that's essential to survival, the ones that invest stand out even more.
In the fall planning season, print publishers face the fight of their lives. They have a lot to fight for and a lot to fight with -- provided they invest like their lives depend on it.