Doubling Down on Print

A recent news report indicating that telephone companies are winning regulatory approval to discontinue their white pages directories is one sizable piece of evidence to support the broadly-held belief that print publications are well on their way to extinction. Problem is, while print certainly isn't thriving, it's also a long way from dying. That puts many publishers in a tough situation.

There is the well-known problem that publishers can rarely afford to walk away from their print revenue.

It's also well-understood that print advertising tends to be more profitable than online advertising. What is fascinating is that the shift to online advertising by many advertisers hasn't caused print advertising rates to collapse. That's because those who don't want to advertise in print won't do so at any price, so lowering rates won't bring them in.  The net of this is that if you can sell a print ad today, it's still typically a very nice piece of business. Most frustrating of all for some publishers is that they remain convinced that some percentage of their audiences still use and value print, but a growing number of their advertisers don't believe it.

So what's a publisher to do?

One approach is to emulate what the consumer magazines are doing with their "Magazines: The Power of Print" campaign, that seeks to convince advertisers that print is not just viable, but is thriving. Call it "doubling down on print." For those advertisers who already believe in print, this campaign is just preaching to the choir. To those advertisers who have aggressively migrated to online advertising, this campaign simply reinforces their belief that a large swath of publishers are nothing more than Luddites. And to the small group of advertisers who may be wavering, this campaign aims to push them to print. That's lucrative in the short-run, but a dead-end in the long-run.

My concern with aggressively promoting the print medium at this stage of online migration is the confused message it sends. It's smart to position print as a useful and important part of an integrated media buy. But the harder you sell print, the harder it will be to ultimately wean yourself from print. And along the way, you confuse your own organization about your priorities, and your marketplace about your own grip on your audience and maybe your sanity.