We wrote on the blog a little while ago about the resilience of print in the digital age (TLDR: It’s still around, remaining a medium that can woo brands and readers alike).

 

And yet. In general, print figures are only going one way. There isn’t going to be an actual recovery. To be really blunt, the reason print retains importance is because of ad revenue, not readership. And the reason for that is that at the moment the ad revenue hasn’t got anywhere else to reliably go. As we previously advanced, print is still effective as a medium – largely because digital isn’t.

 

The conundrum is simple enough. The internet broke print (removing the cost of production in one fell swoop), but hasn’t come anywhere near to replacing it as a working advertising format.

 

As a print romantic/luddite, it is with a heavy heart that I face the reality of the situation: it won’t last. There is a priority, for both media space owners (who need the digital/mobile editions to start paying for themselves) and advertisers (who want the digital/mobile reach) to make advertising more effective in the place where more and more people spend time. There are certain thresholds that, when reached, will quicken the decline. When, for instance, it becomes too expensive to deliver a paper to all parts of the country (losing swathes of readers at once), the knock on effect will test the resolve of media agencies like ours. Yes, we recognise the myriad benefits of print, but not at the expense of the bottom line for our clients.

 

Clay Shirky, an American writer on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies, has written compellingly about this. He once wrote (with reference to both the current changes and the invention of the printing press) that “…the old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place.” Which seems to just about sum up our current position.

 

Shirky sees the current slow decline as a precursor to a far more dramatic period. One that basically ends print as we know it, not at some point distant, but well within this decade. In his eyes, the end of print isn’t up for discussion, it’s a done deal. Here was his advice to the New York Times specifically, but it’s good for the media and advertising industry in general too:

 

1) Demystify the end of print. (“Constant speculation does no-one any good, but nor does the fantasy that this is anything but hospice care.”)


2) Do more to cut costs, company wide. (“The most valuable long-term dollar to an organization with declining revenues is a dollar you don’t spend.”)


3) Give huge emphasis to finding new advertising dollars from mobile-device readership. (“The catastrophe of believing that the iPad would bring full-page, glossy, high-margin brand-building to the Internet was perhaps the cruelest trick Steve Jobs ever played on the media industry, already a long list.”)


4) Think of subscribership as membership. In short, get some percentage of the loyal readers of The Times to pay more — some of them a lot more — to support what Mr. Shirky calls their “indispensable paper.” This is the most important piece of the puzzle, he believes.

 

It’s not our job to come up with working formats, but to create productive media plans with the formats we have at our disposal. The whole range of print retains a huge amount of potency, and we’ll stick with it till the day it is no longer useful or cost effective for our clients.

 

Image via The Guardian

 

By Oliver Brown