From the Editor: Have You Forsaken Print?
I received more e-mail notes in response to my last editor’s note (“Give Me a Stone Tablet, I’ll Read It,” January/February 2012) than to almost any that I’ve ever written. Almost all were along the lines of “Amen” and “I agree! Print is not dead!”
A few people misunderstood my point; one commenter at PubExec.com was confused about how I could want to read a print edition and a digital edition. My point was that if the content is compelling, I don’t care what format it’s in—print, digital, stone tablet. (Think of the “Word of the Day” toilet paper.) I wasn’t saying what I would choose if given the same content on all three.
And that brings up another possible issue with what’s driving some publishers’ readers away from print. First, it was putting all of the print content on the Web for free. Then later trying to backtrack and put up paywalls. Now it’s apps/digital editions. Some are charging for these. Some are not.
Many think it’s a matter of choice—give the consumer the content where they want it. But the business model for it still needs to be there, does it not? Are publishers just grabbing consumer eyeballs any which way for potential advertisers’ sakes without thinking of the other repercussions? What you’re bringing in one door might be pushing twice the volume out the back door.
I don’t have all the answers (I don’t know who thought I did, but just in case), but I do have a question: If print is dead, why did so many publishers e-mail me in joyous response to my editor’s note? Why are there still many magazines whose print revenue (both advertising and subscription) is growing by significant amounts? (We profile four of these magazines in this issue.) Why do millions of consumers still buy magazines on the newsstands and via subscription? Why is Hearst investing in upsizing many of its print publications? (See “Mr. Magazine’s” latest column.)
(And a side note regarding newsstand decline: How can it not decline when shelf space at retailers has continuously been whittled down with each passing year?)
I am not trying to deny for a moment that mobile consumption is growing. It really can’t be denied. And digital editions have been given a huge breath of life from tablets and the enhancements they can provide to content. But they are all different. Radio is not simply TV without a picture, nor is television just film shown on a small screen. Sure, movies are shown on TV, but the medium changes the experience. Live band performances are not the same as albums (we can still call them albums right?) or mp3s or FLACs or tracks…
The way we promote all of the formats in which our content is distributed is just as important as what content we put on them.
Yes, most publishers are increasingly expanding the types of content they produce. In fact, in the interview I just did with Source Interlink Media President Chris Argentieri, Chris suggests that the entire industry would benefit if publishers would start identifying themselves as “integrated media companies” (vs. magazine publishing companies), of which print is an important part. Source Interlink is consistently growing in digital about 20 percent annually. Despite that, Chris says, “Print is still the key driver of our business.” In fact, his company just launched two new print publications that are seeing early success. But the company also is launching brand extensions, tablet versions, mobile products, YouTube channels for video and more.
As an industry, our collective essence is content. We will survive no matter the medium on which we display that content, provided the content is compelling, valuable and non-existent elsewhere—and that the business model is sound. And our foundation is print. It has been for eons. We are expanding on that foundation and certainly shifting pieces of it around; but the rapid pace at which so many publishers are abandoning this print foundation—from drastically cutting resources and investment in print to shuttering magazines altogether—has me a bit perplexed. So, I ask you, why are so many publishers so very quickly turning their backs on print?