The sad truth about print media

Print is dying. You don’t have to be fortune teller to understand this. You just need to be rational enough to accept the facts.

After all print was never about the technological print process. It was about written content, ideas, news, thoughts. Along the way some people failed to grasp the changing media landscape and technology made the printed media obsolete.

decrease-print-revenues
Print advertising decreases. Online increases. But does it increase fast enough? Source: State of the Media – 2012

The internet let individuals and smaller media companies reach potential readers. With low overheads such small editorial operations let the founders survive on advertising alone. “Free” content meant a larger access to potential readers. The increase in internet adoption, increase in online publishing websites popularity and increase in advertising revenue meant that in a very short time these websites became serious threats to print industry’s revenues.

How did it get to this?

Print publishers failed to adapt on several key moments:

1. The internet made online publishing possible: This was the most important moment. This was the moment a certain key element previously reserved to large media companies became publicly available. Anyone with access to a computer, internet, a few bucks could potentially start a online publishing company. Of course, funding was scarce, especially after the dot-com crash, advertising revenue was almost impossible to reach so most publishers decided they weren’t going to join the club. At the moment the decision may have sounded rational as there was no point in spending money on something that many considered a fad. There were no economic incentives so the publishers decided they were not going to risk established business over some geeky internet stuff. It was all downhill from here.

2. Online independent publishers started monetizing their audience: Through advertising online publishers started making at least some kind of money. With low operational costs some of them reached break even. However large media companies were still dismissive of this new trend as revenues were still way below their radar. Were this companies to seriously consider the online alternative they may have just detracted the public from the “free” advertising sustained model independent publishers adopted. Maybe, just maybe, a paywall solution could have been accepted were it proposed and generally introduced at the time. In my opinion Rupert Murdoch’s idea of pay per written content is not feasible on a large scale. It may work on a select few buyers that need accurate financial information, for example, but it’s pretty hard to impose such a model on, say, a daily news website.

3. Print revenues started declining: Even when revenues started declining large media companies were not able to seriously consider the online alternative. With a short term vision they treated their, by now existing, online division as the “town freak”. Rather tolerated then encouraged and developed. Focus was (and with most print-based companies still is) the print. That’s where the revenue (still) came from – that’s where they thought they should focus on. Wrong. Readers  switched sides. Advertisers switched sides. The whole world switched sides. After all, Amazon is already selling more ebooks then hardcover and paperback books. Why wouldn’t newspapers and magazines get the same treatment?

The print companies faced denial, denial, denial and now they face survival. They now face the sad truth that print is going to die and there’s nothing they can do about it. Maybe just survive the crush.

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