April 16, 2019

Traditional Publishers Still Struggling Digitally

By Jay Bemis | Advertising Systems Inc.

Newspapers and magazines, infamously known these days as “legacy publishers,” just can’t seem to catch a financial break during the digital age.

They’ve tried paywalls as a way to get readers to subscribe to both digital as well as their print content; they, like others, face ad blocking by internet users; their employees wonder for whom they may be working from one day to the next, thanks to constant bankruptcies and mergers within the industry; and, they’ve seen their display ad prices fall as the world turns to programmatic ad-buying practices.

And now comes this news from a newly released eMarketer study: Though total digital ad spending in the United States is anticipated to grow 19.1% this year to $129.34 billion, the digital ad spend growth for newspapers and magazines will be at a snail’s pace by comparison, or just 2.3% and 2.1%, respectively.

Who will be getting a bulk of the total U.S. digital ad revenues? Such internet behemoths as Google, Facebook and Amazon, of course, whose tech-driven platforms have put them atop the programmatic food chain. These “non-traditional publishers” seemingly have become the traditional publishers of the 21st century. Newspapers and magazines, meanwhile, are now infamously dubbed as “legacy media” by the new guard.

NetLingo The Dictionary, for example, defines legacy publishers this way:

“Media that (are)) considered ‘old,’ such as radio, television, and especially newspapers. With legacy media, the receiver does not contribute or interact with the content and remains totally passive.”

Ken Lerer, a co-founder of The Huffington Post and chairman of BuzzFeed, has said of legacy publishers’ slow transition to the digital age: “You have to fix the plane while you’re flying it.” He was referring to traditional print’s tough balancing act of having to maintain old business models that rely on subscriptions and print ad revenues while also trying to figure out how to become successful digitally.

As we’ve reported here, despite such difficulties, print does still matter to a small business advertiser and has its place in a digital world.

If you’re a small business marketer targeting a local audience, particularly, you should consider ads in local newspapers and magazines as at least a part of a programmatic ad buy. People who subscribe to these legacy products do so because the publications focus on local news and events — and those subscribers represent about 90 percent of these publications’ circulations.

Studies also have shown that print readers are more engaged and that direct mail remains a key marketing force, with more than 121 billion pieces of mail delivered to U.S households in 2017.

“Of course, not all legacy print media companies are struggling, and some are diversifying their business models with events, brand licensing and ecommerce to become less dependent on advertising,” eMarketer said when releasing its recent study on digital ad spending. “The New York Times and The Washington Post have been profitable lately. But their successes are largely due to surges in subscription revenues.”

Sadder yet, perhaps, is that the general public doesn’t seem to realize that its local publications are struggling. Seventy-one percent of U.S. adults responding to a Pew Research Center study last fall said they thought their local news media were doing well financially.

However, that same Pew study also found that only 14 percent of the respondents had directly paid for a local news source (most likely because they figure they can find their news on their smartphone, laptop or desktop computer instead).

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