Ad Spend Figures Don't Lie -- Print's Worst Days Are Yet To Come

The figures from AA/Warc are in, and as expected, 2016 was a massive year for digital marketing -- particularly mobile marketing. It grew 45% last year, nearly four times the growth rate of Internet advertising. Although the growth of mobile will be steady, it is still forecast to shoot up 30% this year and 20% next. 

That's the headline, but lurking a little lower down we have the demise of print. It's at this point that I know someone will comment about print's many attributes, and as a journalist from way before computer screens brought us news, I couldn't agree more. The trouble is that the figures don't lie. I am not happy about it, and I don't welcome it, but print's demise will only continue, and will likely worsen. Here's why.

First the figures. National newspaper advertising was down 10% last year, and it will be down 7% this year and 7% again the year after, AA/Warc reveals. Regional newspaper advertising was down 13% last year. Yes, there were modest single-digit increases for digital advertising -- up 5% for nationals in 2016 -- but in no way do they plug the gap of larger declines in print. Put it this way -- a 10% drop in national print advertising is very roughly equivalent to a little over GBP100m. National newspaper digital revenues for 2016 were only GBP230m, so a 5% increase would have been very roughly a little over GBP10m. That means, as a very rough calculation, that national print's losses were ten times the size of any digital gain. 

The situation is worse for regionals. In fact, their digital revenues are reported to have declined last year, as well as print. In magazines, there is a near 7% dip last year and virtually no rise in digital. So in each case, there isn't even the consolation of rising revenues in digital to make up for print's decline.

Not only does the situation look like it's not going to get better, there is a major argument for it getting worse. A lot worse.

A chart from eMarketer for UK attention vs UK media spend makes grim reading for print. If you look at just one chart today and bookmark it, this should be the one. Scan down to print and you will see it gets around 3% of our media attention, yet nearly 12% of spend. This percentage will narrow slightly over the next couple of years -- however, by 2019, print spending is still forecast to be three times the attention that the medium gets.

By way of comparison, Internet and mobile ad spend is just a little over a 1:1 ration in favour of spend. Radio, on the other hand, achieves seven times more attention than ad spend -- and tv fails to hit a 1:1 ration, with more a little more attention than budget. 

The conclusion, then, isn't that traditional channels are doomed -- because it looks like there's a good case for more tv and radio spending, particularly radio. However, when you look at the decline of print and then study how much of our media time is devoted to it and how much ad spend it receives, you can only presume that the slide in revenue is going to steepen.

There's a good case for saying a newspaper is immersive and media time spent leafing through news and features is more valuable, and more focussed than on other channels. But does that really mean a channel that we devote 3% of our media time to should get nearly 12% of ad spend?

It brings me no joy -- in fact, it only saddens me -- to come to the conclusion that print still hasn't seen its worst days and that today's tumbling revenues only stand to get worse if the channel gets nearer to the equilibrium between consumption and ad spend.

2 comments about "Ad Spend Figures Don't Lie -- Print's Worst Days Are Yet To Come".
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  1. Vanessa Clifford from Newsworks, April 27, 2017 at 6:28 a.m.

    It’s true that ad spend figures don’t lie but they also don’t tell the whole story, so don’t despair just yet Sean.

    There is no denying that the business models behind journalism are challenged, but the old habit of equating time spent with value has been debunked so many times – not least by WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell. Not only does it ignore the value of a quality, trusted environment, but it also disregards consumers’ attention and responsiveness to communications.

    PWC’s research has proven that the attention commanded by a medium drives advertising impact far more than dwell time. So here’s an alternative chart to the time spent table you favour -

    In the spirit of balancing your, in my view, overly gloomy prognosis, it’s also worth pointing out that the AA/Warc data you quote shows that revenues from national newsbrands’ online ads are up for the fifth year running. 

  2. Sean Hargrave from Sean Hargrave, April 27, 2017 at 7:20 a.m.

    Thanks Vanessa. Print couldn't find a better well-wisher than I, and probably every other journalist who cut their teeth on locals before the move to nationals and freelancing.
    As I point out in the blog, not all channels are created equally and so the experience of reading a paper of magazine is far more immersive than a radio in the background or MPUs beside an article on a web site. Is that enough to make 3% of our attention equate to 12%. I'm not so sure and the AA/Warc figures, from memory, suggest 3% in a couple of years will earn around 10% I believe.
    Also, the gains in digital are tiny compared to the losses in print.
    I would far rather it weren't so, and recently blogged about Sorrell's kind words towards print, but revenue is clearly moving away from print and in to digital. One can only hope publishers find a way of navigating this shift without feeling they can only do so through cutting Facebook in on the action. 
    However, when you look at the massive attention for Facebook, in news terms, and the BBC and then see the tiny blips on the chart for other publishers, it's definitely a huge challenge.
    Thanks for the link, I will check it out now.

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