Finding a Place for Legacy Media in Your Revenue Mix
Selling and maintaining print products may actually be viable. Yes, really.
News is disposable and has a lifespan, but niche content focused on other interests and hobbies is more likely to be retained and print is the perfect format for that.
As someone who was in the business of developing digital content platforms for media owners I should, in theory, be firmly planted in the pro-digital camp. In reality I’m more objective and take the view of what’s best for each business. We’re not all the same, our readers are not all the same, and we tailor our various forms of distribution accordingly in order to reach as many people in our target market as is possible.
I bet the last person building and maintaining steam engines made a pile of money and it’s likely that business is thriving still in its 4th generation.
Polaroid cameras, vinyl records, and a host of other products all found their settling point and are now growing as they cater to a niche market, whether nostalgia-driven or otherwise.
To condemn print is, at best, short sighted. It will continue to exist and I suspect remain a completely viable revenue stream for many publishers. Assume that certain content is disposable, while some content suits being retained and cherished, understand the difference and it becomes easier to see a healthy future. Radio was written off during the advent of television, by industry commentators, but today we find that audio, as a medium, is more relevant than ever. Podcasts can be an effective way to fill the gaps in our day and a powerful way to get our content to an audience which may not always be able to devote time to specifically read or watch.
Clay Shirky made a very astute point back in March 2008; “Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism.” It’s taken us a long time to fully understand that and now we’re approaching an era in which crafted and well researched journalism is becoming valued again. Society may not need newspapers or magazines, but that’s not to say print format news is entirely unwanted, it simply occupies a smaller space.
In the case of local interest content, the best format may well be print. It’s easier to target an audience in print if the target market is defined only by a specific geographic boundary. Direct mail, local retail, or doorstep delivery, in these cases, can be more effective than geo-targeting a digital product.
Look also at the growth of specialist media in print, which is delivering gains and revenue growth. In Germany, Axel Springer has been reporting strong revenues in automotive and sports, in particular. In these special interest sectors we find that the content does not date so quickly and readers often prefer to keep a physical back catalog of content for re-use. Let’s not be hasty in writing off print in all cases as throwing out the baby with the bathwater might be our downfall.
A recent study of America’s 25 most vulnerable industries has flagged two areas that show significant decline in the last 10 years -- textiles and printing. Set aside your own bias for a moment and consider the textiles industry. Consumers shifted their demand towards cheap imported textile products, often from manufacturers with dubious labor practices. This shift in demand has meant that textile mills in the U.S. have gone into severe decline. It’s possible this could reverse, if a myriad of factors came into play or the federal government forced heavy import taxes into this sector, but it’s unlikely. What’s likely to happen is that those who survive will be stronger and benefit from a more loyal base of domestic consumers. Perhaps a larger artisan market will emerge and flourish. What’s clear is that the shift to imported goods in this market was price driven. If you were in the business of clothing retail, would you shift your business model entirely towards cheaper imported garments, would you hold your ground and push your brand upmarket, or would you offer the widest variety of options in order to retain all your customers?
Those who have a print relevant product, can hold their nerve and find their market are likely to succeed. Who dares, wins (as they say).
Related story: B2Me: Increasing Your Magazine’s Value with Customization
Robert Grainger had 15 years experience in magazines in the UK before co-founding Stonewash, building apps for publishers, in 2009. He served as the CEO of Stonewash until its sale in 2015 and has served on the board of SiiA (Europe), as well as being a regular speaker and commentator on the subject of digital media.