When Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends report was released around Memorial Day, most honed in on observations like Internet growth was slowing, voice activation was hot and that digital has become table stakes for all business, not a differentiator.
But what I found compelling were two nuggets that many overlooked. And they’re about two areas considered to be old school.
First, subscription as a business model is working. People are paying for value. The New York Times’ subscription growth is 43% year over year.
Second, print (yes, print) is stable. While it’s true legacy media has taken a big hit in the past decade, print has held on to a 4% share of media for the past four years. It’s been a stable medium since 2014, in an otherwise volatile media business storm.
However, the share of advertising dollars going to print has dropped by half, in the same period.
Some see those stats and chalk it up to another sign that legacy media is continuing its decline. To me, it suggests optimism. Publishers might be leaving money on the table. By adding some efficiencies to their business, legacy print titles and their related digital properties have significant growth potential in the years ahead.
Legacy print has been one of the last areas in the media landscape to decide how to apply technology to make the business of selling and buying advertising and sponsorship easier. One good reason for that is no one wanted inventory to experience the same kind of devaluation that happened in the digital display advertising world.
The legacy print world held off on automating to maintain value. But as the rest of media transactions went programmatic, it became relatively hard and time consuming to buy print. Publishers and ad buyers alike resisted, fearing that race to the bottom and the loss of valuable personal relationships and service.
However, in my daily conversations with publishers and ad buyers, it’s clear that attitudes have shifted dramatically.
Technology solutions like private marketplaces are being embraced. Publishers see the value of automation as a way to unchain their teams from time-consuming, low-value work, allowing them to go see their clients face to face. Ad buyers are newly receptive to transactional capabilities being integrated into existing media-buying datasets.
Automation and private marketplaces — as opposed to programmatic solutions — are allowing publishers and agencies to work together in a more seamless way without losing the personal connection.
Within the print category, the specific slice dedicated to vertical business audiences — trade media — remains a $6 billion business. Many of these enterprises have evolved their business models to include conferences and email marketing, as ways to build and monetize valuable business segments.
At the same time, sales teams have been cut back making it hard for these title to realize their full potential. Applying automation to this segment alone will be a game changer.
So yes, the legacy print world held out on going all-in on programmatic. But it might be a reason it’s still here.
By recognizing the importance of maintaining relationships between buyers and sellers, preserving the significant value of segmented business audiences and being deliberate about adding automation, legacy print could be one media category that experienced an upward trend. It will be interesting to see its position on Mary Meeker’s chart in 2019.