Ignore Print's Brave Face -- Just Follow The Money

The press industry is giving a very good account of itself in this morning's Marketing Week, talking up the prospects of print and going to great lengths to say that the medium if far from dead. There is a lot of talk that you would imagine you would get from the print industry about great times ahead. Trouble is, from someone inside the industry, I can't help but think they're giving themselves and co-workers a pep talk as they manage another year of revenues sliding away.

Digital is presented as a shiny toy that marketers are obsessed with, alongside a prediction they'll come to their senses and rediscover the allure of print. However, if you really want to know where this is all headed, just look at the brand that is chosen to say how print really does have a future -- Sky. The brand goes to great lengths to say how traditional channels have a big future but that's enough of the talk for now, though, let's look at the figures.

Sky is the country's biggest print advertiser. According to Nielsen, it spent GBP47.7m in 2015, but this was down nearly 16% on 2014 and down more than a fifth -- 22.4% -- compared to 2013. If the poster boy for how great your channel is turns out to be spending nearly a quarter less on that channel than just two years ago, it's not the biggest ringing endorsement, is it?

It doesn't matter how brave a face the newspaper industry puts on it -- readership levels have plummeted. Sure, they can say a particular issue has done well, such as the announcement of the Brexit vote, but typically ABC figures are through the floor. They can also talk about newspaper ads being viewed for longer than online ads and that print is an immersive medium where the viewer is focussed on content. However, it could just as easily be said that it's a channel that has no way of activating any of the interest it generates, like a PC or a smartphone, and it's ultimately a sit-back medium rather than a lean forward one. For awareness, then, it holds promise without a doubt.

Predictions that print could stop falling this year or next and allow publishers to enjoy rising digital revenue without having to look over their backs may well be true. The problem is that when print does plateau, it will be at a far lower level than it used to be and the rise in digital revenue will not plug the gap between where print used to be and where it is now. That's just simple economics.

Here's another worry for print publishers, as if they didn't have enough on their plates. Study after study shows that people are increasingly discovering news through social media and are starting to lose the habit of going straight to a news brand's home page to check the day's stories. Whether it's links on Facebook posted by friends, Twitter moments or Apple News, people are becoming used to being directed to stories by third parties and often these news sources are digital start-ups, such as Vice or the Huffington Post. 

Sure, print has a future, but it is vastly diminished compared to where it was a decade ago. It doesn't matter how much of a brave face you put on it -- print is in the midst of a major decline. It can point to studies that say what a great medium it is, but if you want to know the only truth that matters, just follow the money.

2 comments about "Ignore Print's Brave Face -- Just Follow The Money".
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  1. Liz Jaques from Newsworks, August 4, 2016 at 6:59 a.m.

    Hi Sean, 

    You say that "no matter how brave a face the newspaper industry puts on it – readership levels have plummeted". This actually isn't the case. More people are reading newspapers in the UK – in their many forms – than ever before. In fact, total monthly readership stands at 47 million according to NRS PADD. If you're looking solely at print, two thirds of the population are reading monthly. 

    What also doesn't get a mention – presumably written off as part of the press industry's "brave face" – is Benchmarketing's recent effectiveness study, quoted in Marketing Week's piece. In regards to ad decline you say that "it's worth looking at the figures", so why not consider these figures too. 

    In a nutshell, Benchmarketing's analysis of 500 econometric models found that including print advertising in a campaign not only boosts the performance of other media (x2 for TV and x4 for online display), but also increases overall campaign ROI by an average of three times. It states that investment in print advertising has fallen below effective levels and brands should return to 2013 spend to get the biggest bang for their advertising buck. 

    You advise advertisers to "follow the money", but why if they could have more effective campaigns by altering print spend levels? Surely boosting ROI should be at the heart of any campaign – so instead of just following the money, why not make it instead. 

  2. Sean Hargrave from Sean Hargrave, August 5, 2016 at 5:16 a.m.

    Liz, lots of points there. You need only look at print ABCs for the nationals and regionals, look at all the job losses at both, look at the share prices of news organisations (Johnston has just taken another hit) and then finally look at how budget flowing in to print is declining too. Print budgets are way down, while digitial continues to grow. I don't think there are any industry observers who can watch this flow of budget away from print, watch print readerships sink, see journos lose their jobs and see local papers close like village pubs and say the print industry is in the good health. Can they?

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