Is Print Media On Life Support Or Doing Well? Panelists Debate

Despite being buffeted by circulation scandals and declining ad page revenue, print as an advertising medium cannot yet be put out to pasture, said a majority of five panelists debating the topic of whether or not the medium was dying at the Print Forecast panel in Manhattan on Monday.

"The trends are not exactly what we would like, but I think the reports of print's death are greatly exaggerated," said Jason Klein, president and CEO of the Newspaper National Network (NNN).

"Print is evolving, morphing beyond the printed page," said Initiative Senior Vice President and Director of Print Services Beth Fidoten. "If you create content that is interesting...People are going to come."

Her comments came in the was of a recent study by merchant bank Veronis Suhler Stevenson which estimated that, while business-to-business magazine media spending was set to grow a modest 2.7 percent in 2005, and between 3.1 and 3.8 percent over the next four years, e-media spending was set to increase a brisk 26.5 percent in 2005.



MPG CEO Charlie Rutman found the argument of print's continuing viability generally unpersuasive, however, and pointed to a series of circulation scandals and weak numbers that have assailed the industry as of late.

"Dying may be a little extreme, but the medium is definitely on a resuscitator," Rutman weighed in.

Addressing the circulation controversies, he opined, "once burned, twice shy. It's happened too often--clients are nervous, we're nervous."

In June 2004, it was revealed that the New York daily newspaper Newsday and its Spanish-language sister publication Hoy had been overstating their circulation by several thousand copies per issue. Two Gruner & Jahr magazines, the defunct Rosie and YM, faced similar circulation scandals. Last week, Time Inc.--the nation's largest publisher of consumer magazines--was subpoenaed by a U.S. Attorney to provide information about the industry's circulation practices.

"Circulation auditing procedures have become more rigorous," said Fidoten, by way of response.

In further grim recent news for the industry, a recent Merrill Lynch report warned that a move by Federated, the largest department store company in the United States, to shift spending from newspapers to electronic media such as television and direct mail could potentially threaten the company's own newspaper industry advertising forecast of 3 percent growth for 2005 and 2006.

Recent second quarter results for newspapers have also been decidedly mediocre. In emblematic results, Gannett's national newspaper advertising revenue in August was down 8.2 percent, following a 5.1 percent decline in ad volume, and Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times publisher Tribune Co. watched August ad revenue edge up a fractional 0.6 percent to $234 million while its overall revenue declined 0.9 percent to $428 million.

However, in a hopeful sign, he said, panelist Klein pointed to a recent NNN 2005 Media Engagement Study, which asserted that consumers found reading a newspaper more engaging than other media, and thus, a continuingly important advertising tool.

"Auditing standards have been pumped up across the board," Klein said. "Advertisers (can now) have confidence that the reported numbers are the correct numbers."

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