Print isn’t dying. Print advertising is dying.

In the on-going arguments about print and digital and the future of publishing, I see a growing disconnect between what readers want and what advertisers wants.

According to lots of research, readers still like print. Even young people. (See links below.) But advertisers are no longer enamored of print advertising and they keep trying to convince us that print is dead.

Advertisers prefer digital ads for a lot of reasons, including that they’re more trackable and that you can divide audiences more precisely.

So the dearth of print advertising is causing some publishers to pull away from print, which is often not what the reader wants. (And is probably self-defeating for other reasons.)

The digital cheerleaders will say the solution is to get all those print-loving Luddites to give up their dead tree editions and start acting like modern people. That’s not a fair representation of what’s going on, but it’s also not the way to run a business. You’re far better off serving people’s needs than trying to change their behavior.

A better solution to this print-digital dilemma would be to find a way to bridge the gap between these different interests and satisfy both sides. That is, to offer advertisers the tracking and audience segmentation they want, and to allow people to read their magazines the way they want to read them.

So … how’s that done? How do you make print more appealing to advertisers?

Here are a few of my ideas

  • Encourage your print subscribers to create digital accounts so you have more data on your web users. This won’t solve the problem of getting more print advertising, but it will use the leverage you have in print to get more customer data so you can charge more for digital ads.
  • Work with advertisers to create more trackable print ads, with custom URLs.
  • Look into better segmentation of your print edition so advertisers can target the group they’re interested in.

I also asked a few publishing colleagues for their opinion on this topic and got a few interesting ideas.

  • From Lev Kaye: Allow your print-loyal readers to READ your content in print, but then offer them ad-sponsored value-add products which can only be delivered digitally, such as a ‘solution configurator’ or ROI calculator or some other interactive piece that takes input from a PC or smartphone and spits out a customized recommendation or solution.
  • From BoSacks: You should look into the progress of high speed digital variable presses. Very impressive.

    It creates a personalized/localized edition on the fly. I have seen samples that show that the fidelity is so good that the cosmetic companies have bought into the process. That means reproduction of high speed toner and paper has reached offset standards and that is very impressive indeed.

  • From Donna Jefferson: An advertiser wants their brand to be seen in a publication that represents their (the advertiser’s) brand in a positive way.
    Most readers still believe that print represents brands that can most afford to be there and the reader is more apt to have faith in a brand represented by print. Print reinforces, or even introduces digital campaigns (we sell lots of bundled packages that include print and digital).

If you’ve got other ideas to add to the mix, please let me know.

P.S. — In support of my general argument about print and digital, see this article. And for more on the non-death of print, and how publishers have completely misunderstood the trends, see this and this.

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