Reports on Print’s Resurgence Are Misleading
Each has charmingly enthusiastic information about the print side of our business, from which, in my opinion, one could draw erroneous conclusions.
My viewpoint is this: I like and greatly enjoy the format of the printed magazine. But I am a business man, and it is the business aspect of the publishing process that counts more in my playbook and not the form factor.
I think we can all agree that the reading public's supposed love of print isn't paying the bills as well as it once did. More to the point, the buying public, despite their affirmation of love for print, has continued to buy less of it each and every year for the last nine years. To paraphrase the old political adage: "It is NOT the economy."
What people answer to in surveys and what they actually do in real time are many times very different. And that holds true when we read studies like the one my friends at Mequoda produced where 69.6% of adult Americans have read an average of 2.91 print magazine issues in the last 30 days, and they also point out that one third of adults had read a digital magazine in the same time period. That's pretty good penetration for a digital format only 5 years old. What about the print data?
Does that print stat jibe with the Magnet report that newsstand magazine sales declined nearly 14% in the first half of 2015, a continuing double-digit annual nine-year slump? Perhaps the report that two thirds of Americans have read three print magazine issues in the last 30 days has meaning, but what exactly does it mean? Are these good stats or bad stats? What is the trend?
The other article reports on new launches of magazines. This, too, is wonderful to read about. But as I have stated before, the critical statistic is not how many new magazines we make, but rather how many we sell. Will there be new winners in the latest crop of wishful publishers? I hope so. But, as I have said in previous newsletters, enthusiasm isn't a great business plan. I think Jerry Maguire's client pretty much covered it when he said, "Show me the money."
Eventually even the most enthusiastic print publishers will admit that the print pond of buyers is getting ever smaller. Will the pond actually dry up? No, I think not. I do think that vanity publishing will evaporate and that only the best quality, highly focused niche titles can remain in print format. Where is the bottom line here and when will the statistics for print see an upsurge? An upsurge will never happen, but a soft bottom is perhaps in the cards.
Like most of the industry I have been tracking Mary Meeker's Time Spent with Media Chart. It has shown how much time the public spends with all types of media. When I started to track it in 2007 time spent with print was 9%. Print now receives about 4% of all time that is spent with media.
Here is my prediction: I think that in the next few years time spent with print will be as low as 1% and hover there for quite some time. That doesn't mean the end of print nor the end of magazines, which will still be valued in the billions, but it will be a far cry from the $37 billion in revenues we had in 2007. If the public is only spending 1% of their time with printed products, then that 1% better be damned good. In fact, it will have to be excellent to survive at all.
The print magazine herd will continue to be culled until what is left will be of great value to both the publishers that are still left standing and to the advertisers who want to reach that kind of specific reader, the reader of printed magazines.
Bob Sacks (aka BoSacks) is a printing/publishing industry consultant and president of The Precision Media Group (BoSacks.com). He is also the co-founder of the research company Media-Ideas (Media-Ideas.net), and publisher and editor of a daily international e-newsletter, Heard on the Web. Sacks has held posts as director of manufacturing and distribution, senior sales manager (paper), chief of operations, pressman, circulator and almost every other job this industry has to offer.