Will the Double-Digit Declines in Print Sales Continue? In All Likelihood, Yes.
There is a trend afoot these days of many writers waxing poetically about the virtues of printed magazines and how the younger generation (whoever that may be) enjoys print as an escape from the drama of a digitally focused life. Some pundits describe the love that they and readers have for print. They say that surveys prove the sustainability of print.
Folio.com published an article yesterday that is no different. Although to me this particular article reads as native advertising for The Economist, it is true that The Economist is running well ahead of most of print and is doing well on all fronts including newsstand and subscriptions as well as digital editions.
That particular success, as well as the success of quite a few other print publishers — Hearst is one that comes to mind — provides some joyous moments in the magazine industry, which is otherwise in total free fall when it comes to newsstand. And unfortunately, those exceptions are fewer each reporting period.
The Folio author tells us that, “Double-digit decline has been a commonality for many publications — last year the magazine industry overall hemorrhaged 14% of its newsstand sales in North America — but I expect that the decline will soon recede into single digits.”
I don’t agree that the double-digit era of newsstand declines is over. I think it is a trend that now has its own momentum for a variety of reasons and that it will continue for several years more. What is there to change that juggernaut of a trend? Is it the survey results that people love print? Indeed, I believe that they do love print, but they are clearly not willing to pay for it as they used to. At least not the vast majority of readers.
Like The Economist, there are still many titles that make great money on the newsstand. Some of them will make enormous amounts of money in retail, but they are the aberrations of the industry to the overall sad trend that is still in play.
It is worth noting that many printers and publishers will do just fine in this malleable period of tectonic changes in the information distribution industry. It is my hope that your title will beat the odds and rise above the negative trends. That is always my hope. But that hope doesn’t change the overall trend of the magazine newsstand industry. Is there a bottom to the decline? Yes. Have we hit it? No.
Here is a sober question for you all. Since 2007 we have gone from $5 billion in newsstand revenue to Magnet’s projected revenue of $2.5 billion in 2015 — a loss of 50%. What is going to keep that revenue number in 2025 from falling to $1.25 billion or the loss of another 50%?
What will change in the print side of our industry? And I guess it is fair to ask, what will change in the digital side of our industry? Will digital finally take a fall allowing print to pick up the pieces? Is that a reasonable thing to expect? Will the public’s declared love of print finally be proven by them buying more magazines on the newsstand than they did the year before?
In almost all my lectures in the last 20 years I end with the two following quotes. The first one from Upton Sinclair:
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
And the second and final slide in my talks is a quote from the great publishing visionary Wayne Gretzky, who was correct when he said, “I skate to where the puck will be, not where it’s been.”
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.