Dollars For Dimes -- Print's Demise Is Amazingly Fast

Revealing the demise of print is never something I take pride in, but here goes. Today, Trinity Mirror's AGM will hear a startling fact. Last year print ad revenue was down 18%, and in the first four months of this year it's down 19%. The one piece of good news on offer will be that digital display revenue is up 19%. 

It would be very easy for the layman to look at the figures and underestimate how truly awful the situation for print is. Print has dipped 19%, but don't worry -- digital display is up 19%. That would be a very easy trap to fall into. 

The problem is that the 19% drop in print is nearly a fifth of a figure that will be massively higher than digital income. The two just don't balance out. 

The most recent AA/Warc figures for 2016 show that this is the story of newspapers right now. Print losses are nowhere near being covered by digital gains. Its figures showed that national newspapers were down 10% last year (regionals were down 13%) while national digital advertising revenues were up 5%. By a very quick back-of-the-envelope calculation, a 10% drop in print ad revenue is roughly GBP100m. A 5% digital ad hike for papers would be about GBP10m. 

The sad fact is that in terms of advertising, the AA/Warc figures show the newspaper industry is losing print revenue ten times faster than it can plug the gap with digital. For every ten pounds of revenue they lose in print, they make back just a single pound in digital.

Last time I talked about the demise of print, I pointed out that worst could be yet to come because print gets around 3% of our media attention and 12% of budget. This would suggest that if budget were more in line with attention, print has a long way yet to fall.

Newsworks, the paper's trade body, pointed out that its research shows not all media are created equal in attention. Quite rightly, it points out that the radio is not immersive, it's usually on in the background, and to some extent, the same can be said of television. Hence, it will come as little surprise to hear the research came to the conclusion that newspapers are the most immersive medium.The conclusion is that you can't just say a channel that gets x% of attention deserves the same x% of budget because some channels are worth more to advertisers than others because they hold attention better.

The principle is no doubt true, but are papers so compelling that they deserve a percentage of ad spending that is four times greater than the percentage of attention they attract? I doubt it. I think advertisers are of the same mind as print continues to suffer double-digit percentage revenue losses.

As I say, it can only sadden a journalist who learned their trade in print to be the bearer of bad tidings. Unfortunately, there's no way to hide this ongoing bad news story. When one of the country's largest national and regional newspaper groups reveals that last year's experience of print ad revenue declining by nearly a fifth is being repeated this year, there's no way of sugar-coating it.

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