In 2007, Apple gave birth to the iPhone, a new piece of technology that promised to dramatically change the way readers communicate and consume news. Over the following year, the U.S. economy crashed, leaving American media at a huge loss. No longer were people buying print editions of magazines and newspapers. Pockets were thinly lined, and pocketbooks clutched tightly.
So the media looked to its new digital counterpart and took a sharp turn. Soon, giants like Newsweek were abandoning their print entities for digital-only versions, kicking mass quantities of print reporters onto the streets, and inciting the growing wave of new media journalists (adept at all things digital), as well as IT specialists, Web developers and interactive designers to apply as their replacements.
Amid falling advertising revenues caused by readers moving toward online publications, on Dec. 31, 2012, Newsweek ended almost 80 years in print by publishing its final hard copy edition as it transitioned to an online-only format. Traditional journalists across the country wept.
However, somehow a miracle transpired. After a two-year hiatus, Newsweek decided to resurrect its print entity, thanks to new ownership and a new business model.
In 2014, it’s now evident that the economy is slowly getting back to normal. The iPhone is still a hot technology—now nearing its eighth iteration, but ironically, digital versions of publications haven’t made media companies the revenue they had expected. (Some companies only report 13 percent digital ad income; whereas, print magazines are still bringing in steady cash flow—collecting an average of 55 percent of their revenue from print ads.)
It turns out most people don’t really like reading digital newspapers and magazines after all. So there’s no need for that simulated “swoosh” sound of flipping pages that digital publications offer. People still prefer the feel of real paper. Ink, not pixels.
Reports suggest that readers spend an average of 15 to 20 minutes per day with a print newspaper or magazine, but only one minute with an online news entity. Therefore, advertisers have (again) changed how they spend their ad dollars. Digital ads don’t really work; print ads do.
It turns out the only companies making money in the digital realm are those who have never before had a print element.
That’s not to say no one is reading the news online. Time magazine has 25 million unique website visitors and only three million print subscribers, but it’s estimated that seven people read each print issue of Time, so their readership has remained relatively the same over time.
Reports do show, however, that there’s very little overlap between print and digital readers. Only around six percent of a publication’s digital audience is also its print audience, according to Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni, PhD, director of the Magazine Innovation Center at Ole Miss. They’re two very different groups of people. Keeping that in mind, he suggests journalists produce content for platforms that meet the needs of their specific readers to beat out the competition.
The media landscape is as wild as ever, he adds, with approximately 17,000 print magazines in existence and 12,000 digital titles available in the Apple store alone.
It’s a competitive field, and only a few publications are starting to reap the benefits. Whereas some women’s general interest magazines and celebrity titles are losing readers, food magazines and niche titles are by far the most popular growing categories.
But the survival rate of regularly published print publications is as high as ever—a whopping 85 percent as compared to only 50 percent less than a decade ago. That’s good news for everyone in publishing.
It still comes down to print.
What we create in print is permanent. There’s nothing permanent in digital. It’s ever changing.
Still, today, print has more worth than digital. For example, everything electronic loses its value over time (i.e., an inkjet printer from 1988 that cost a thousand dollars then is now worthless scrap), but the first issue of the Superman comic book—Action Comics No. 1—the “most sought after comic book in the world”—is currently worth at $1.6 million at auction, but cost only 10 cents when it was first published in 1938.)
At last, print and digital are living hand in hand.
To quote Mr. Magazine: “Today is the most intriguing time in media communications ever.”