Killing Your Print Business Starves Your Brand

"News you can use" is no more.  In case you haven't heard, U.S. News & World Report, the former weekly magazine that rode this tagline into media departments with flair and confidence after Mort Zuckerman purchased it in 1984, has suspended its magazine business except for a few planned one-offs throughout the year.  The company will rely solely on its Web site to drive revenue moving forward. 

Its press release read like a suicide note. 

Even when pages were not included in a buy, the U.S. News print platform gave the brand a unique and credible point of differentiation when up against Web-only properties.  Now they are going head to head with sites that do online better than they do.  It would be like a diner, located next door to a Five Guys, changing its menu to burgers only.   

The number of U.S. News readers who follow this brand online once they stop getting the magazine, will be vastly smaller than the number the brand will abandon -- so overall audience will take a huge hit.  But the hardest hit will be the brand's perceived value.  It will become less relevant to consumers and less significant in an online ad market great at drowning brand value in exchange for cheaper prices.



Someone once shared with me an interesting and provocative perspective on the print advertising business.  He is the former president of The Onion.  At The Onion, he knew his advertising profits came from his brand's Web site.   He also knew he was losing money publishing a free paper distributed in multiple markets.   So why did he stay in the print business?  Easy. Publishing his brand in print became a marketing expense to help increase the brand's awareness, credibility, and value.  

The print platform of a content brand not only drives incremental traffic and subsequent page views to the brand's Web site (and related digital assets), it helps support higher CPMs online.  Removing this platform, and decreasing the overall number of advertising sales calls made on behalf of the brand, is an irrevocable mistake by U.S. News -- signaling an end, not a new beginning.

There is a restaurant in my neighborhood that I used to order business lunches from three to four times a week.    Once or twice a week, I would also order myself dinner.  Needless to say, I was a very good customer.  Two months ago, the restaurant stopped opening for lunch.

I have not ordered dinner from them since.

Consumer appetites are fickle. Once you stop serving your brand the way they are used to consuming it, they pick something else off the menu. 

U.S. News strategists will find this out as they starve this once-proud brand into obscurity.

7 comments about "Killing Your Print Business Starves Your Brand".
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  1. Ed Shane from SHANE MEDIA SERVICES, November 11, 2010 at 12:38 p.m.

    Thanks for reinforcing a message I preach internally and to our advertisers.

    Our free tabloid, "Best In Texas" Music Magazine, began as the focal point of our existence. In its 10 years, it has moved to a promotional vehicle for online presences, especially

    We strategically place the print edition in music venues, clubs and restaurants across Texas. Musicians and fans alike tell us, "I see your publication everywhere!" It's hardly everywhere, but as long as they see it where they are, it works.

    And our online revenues have grown, thanks to a print property that people feel free to spill beer on.

    Ed Shane
    Shane Media

  2. Steve Levy from Hype Circle Ad Collective, November 11, 2010 at 1:42 p.m.

    As a niche magazine publisher we saw the writing on the wall for print several years ago and used our print brands to build an online network. We then killed our own print magazines in the last couple of years, but I'm not inclined to disagree with your points. Especially with The Onion President's view that the cost of print is a marketing expense. Prior to moving the majority of our advertising sales online we generated more revenue from marketing programs we sold around our print titles over actual page sales. And without this revenue the magazines would have been a break even proposition at best. However when the cost of printing magazines vastly outweighed the business benefits we felt might be attributed to their brands, we had to pull the rip chord. We then focused our sales team full time onto our online inventory and haven't looked back. In addition, we also came to the realization that in this digital age the magazine business is irresponsible and unsustainable from a environmental perspective and so we're glad to be out of it.

  3. Ned Newhouse from, November 11, 2010 at 8:19 p.m.

    As a former newspaper and magazine man, tablets are the answer to the overhead problem of print publishing. News esp is a touchy subject when you have lead times the way print does and 72 pieces of analysis have already been in the newsp, web and TV news channels and here comes your 10 days later. Tablets with portability(hopefully paginated uniformly) can cut through the cluster of the blogs, maintain sub revs, create immediacy and eliminate postage, printing, paper costs. Local, news, analysis and investigative reporting is critical for debate of getting many points of view distributed, esp ones like the US News of real class, solid journalistic integrity and decorum.

  4. Ken Nicholas from VideoAmp, November 12, 2010 at 1:58 a.m.

    Ari, your predisposition for ferreting out the key nuggets that are relevant, continues.

    Unfortunately, the argument you make, is essentially one of an 'intangible' Brand value vs. a very real 'tangible' Bottom Line value. One that the "geniuses" rarely ever learn or care about.

    As it goes of course, most of the "geniuses" making $500k/yr [while making these decisions] always learn this lesson way too late. And will still get paid $500k/yr ongoing...somewhere else.

  5. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing Holdings, LLC, November 12, 2010 at 8:22 a.m.

    @Ken Nicholas

    I totally get where you are coming from. My perspective comes from the "intangible" experience I have in the "muck" selling media and I know if I was selling for U.S. News and did not have my magazine to aid me in selling with a greater leverage when asking for premium CPM's online, I would have a harder time closing deals at prices north of non premium brands. I could be wrong on this as you politely point out -- time will tell but if you think of your magazine distribution as advertising for your brand, and you take that off the table, then how else are you going to promote the value of your brand? Your point is that the "marketing expense to do so" will never make the numbers work. Thanks for making that tangible counter argument.

    @Ned -- I hear you as well but don't agree tablets will save the print world -- but rather they will enhance it.

    @ Steve -- killing the magazine feels like the right thing to do but you don't get higher CPM's online because you recycle your plastic bottles. It's a short term solution that has a devastating impact on the brand's long term value.

    @ Ed -- thanks for injecting some humor in support of my point -- let's have a beer some day :)

    As always, appreciate the time spent reading my column and the effort to post your thoughts.

  6. Tyler Newton from Catalyst Investors, November 15, 2010 at 11:19 a.m.

    We wrote a research report on just this topic -

    As the easy money in online lead gen gets arbitraged away, brand will be a major differentiator when trying to reach consumers.

  7. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, November 17, 2010 at 12:10 p.m.

    You are so very correct. Print may be the last opportunity to know the truth about all topics.

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