Media Evolution The Changing Role of Print

The media industry has always adapted to meet the changing needs of advertisers and to incorporate new technologies into their service and product offerings.  Over the last two decades this industry has changed at a breakneck pace that is no longer a series of adjustments but a wholesale evolution of the industry.  New media have entered the arena while others have been forced to evolve to avoid becoming obsolete.  These changes have been driven by advancements in technology, consumer media usage and the almighty dollar.  Perhaps no media has been more challenged by these changes than print.  While print media has been the hardest hit, talk of its extinction is premature and ignores the fact that it has and continues to play a significant role in consumer marketing.  Print media is here to stay but its form and role will never be the same again.

Like all media forms, print has evolved over time and has been undergoing a period of considerable change that began prior to the recent recession.  Newspaper ad revenues have been experiencing significant decline since 2001 while penetration has been declining in many key segments since the early 1970’s (see chart).  This decline has been less pronounced with readers age 55+.  As more tech-savvy baby boomers reach retirement the decline seen in younger segments will likely be matched by the older segments. 

In order to combat the decline in all age groups, print media has diversified their offerings and taken steps to acquire new readers while cutting costs.  Nearly all newspaper and magazine publishers have added complementary websites to their offering.  In an effort to attract younger readers major publishers such as the Tribune and Sun-Times Media Group launched free circulation newspapers geared towards their target audience.  Magazines such as Road & Track and Sports Illustrated have provided unsolicited free 6 month subscriptions followed by a renewal subscription contact strategy thereby providing a free trail.  In an effort to cut costs, some publications have abandoned long standing formats.  On February 8th 2010 the Chicago Tribune trimmed its traditional broadsheet format to reduce costs and changed their editorial ratio as part of their bankruptcy agreement.  As print revenues continue to decline profits are improving and should it be determined that these acquisition efforts and format changes played a key role, it is likely that other publications around the country will follow.

Online advertising has benefited from regular technological advances and has become a mainstream advertising medium now representing 12% of total ad spending compared to 34.6% for print.[1]  The explosive growth of online advertising has tapered off and for the first time experienced negative growth in the first quarter of 2009.  Internet advertising spend grew 37.5% between 2005 and 2008 while print declined 29.9% over the same period.[2]  However, the decline of print has not been made up by growth in online advertising. 

Changes in the media industry have impacted the two primary components of print media in different ways.  For a long time, newspapers enjoyed the highest penetration levels of any media.  This began to change with the introduction of television and its increased usage.  Over the past two decades this evolution has been most impacted by a culture that thrives in convenience and demands their information in “real-time”.  These have never been the strengths of print but proclamations that print is dead ignore prints strengths.  These strengths have begun to show their worth as online advertising has failed to carry the same perceived value that even the wounded print industry maintains to this day.  The very nature of the internet makes it impossible to completely replace print media.  Print retains characteristics not easily replicated through other vehicles: browsability, credibility, tangibility, size, inserts, ad impact, ad content, and usability.

Print will have to redefine its niche, purpose and approach, but it has been a proven vehicle for marketing communication and the differentiating strengths it retains will help it survive.  The internet has only partially succeeded at supplanting print as a news source.  Journalism has been supplanted, in part, by blogs, and independent sources that lack both the clout and professional reputation of long standing institution such as the Wall Street Journal.  Advertisers also have a vested interest in seeing print survive.  The ability to reach large numbers of baby boomers and older consumers, with their considerable spending power through a tangible vehicle will help support print through this transition period. There is no doubt media is undergoing a metamorphosis.  For print this future is unclear but the overall demise of print media is grossly exaggerated.  Print is undoubtedly undergoing a significant change, one that will redefine its niche and better position it for the future.  Media has always adapted to the needs and desires of its consumers and advertisers and this change is no different.  Only time will tell the fate of print, but that fate is far from decided.

 [1] Zenith Optimedia 2009 – Newspapers 23.8%, Magazines 10.8%

[2] Newspaper Association of America

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