Free-Fallin’ (print ad revenue)

Full disclosure: I love print media. When I was growing up in tiny Fontana, California, my only wish was to write for a newspaper or magazine. I studied journalism in college. I did internships at the local papers. Then I found out how badly journalists were paid, and promptly took a left turn into PR.

So when our CEO Mark Willaman sent me a link to an article by The Atlantic titled “The Collapse of Print Advertising in 1 Graph,” I steeled myself for another depressing round of shoot-the-newspaper. Believe me, it’s no secret that print media is on a slow, sad, and unrelenting decline. Print isn’t dead, but the dominance of online media is no longer a question. Heck, we wrote a white paper on media relations and social influence that charted the transition from traditional to new media. Inside the article was a cool infographic by artist extraordinaire Ray Sumser that illustrated the free fall of print media.

It’s not pretty. The chart that accompanies the Atlantic article proves that things aren’t getting better. Print newspaper ads have fallen from $60 billion in the late 1990s to $20 billion in 2011. But writer Derek Thompson adds a new wrinkle. He rightly points out that for most businesses, “$20 billion is the kind of ‘dead’ most people would trade their lives for.” The problem is the newspaper industry’s business model. It was built to support $50 to $60 billion in total advertising with the kind of staff and resources that a $50 billion industry can afford.

Last year’s ad revenues of about $21 billion were less than half of the $46 billion spent just four years ago in 2007. The layoffs, buyouts and bankruptcies you’ve read about are the collective sound of an industry correcting itself for the 21st century.

In our white paper, we wrote: “The media industry pendulum is swinging from print to online media and we’re still in transition. Page counts are shrinking, which means more competition for less coverage.” That coverage is actually spilling out across the Internet, where it’s much harder to keep track of (sorting through this big data of noise to find the people and content that matter is what SocialEars does so effectively).

So there’s hope for newspapers in an online world. Like Derek, I’m rooting that papers and magazines continue to invest in their websites and develop new pricing models that will preserve the independent journalism I grew up admiring. “Otherwise,” he adds, “one hopes that rich people continue to be fond of paying for the production of great writing on bundles of ink and paper.”

PS: Sign up for a great panel discussion on Tuesday, March 13 — “Social PR: Rising Above the Noise” — featuring Jeanne Achille, CEO of The Devon Group, David McInnis, founder of PRWeb, and Sarah-Beth Anders, Sr. Manager of Communications at Achievers. Register HERE

Written by Elrond Lawrence, APR

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