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Yes, Virginia, Print is Dead December 21, 2010

Posted by Peter Varhol in Publishing.
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I prefer writing about technology, but because of my background in tech publishing, and my formative education in psychology, I am interest in the future of how people consume information.  That’s why I see 2010 as a watershed year for traditional publishing.  According to eMarketer, advertisers spent more on online than print advertising in 2010.  During the year print advertising fell 6.6 percent, while online advertising rose 13.9 percent.

In publishing, advertising has traditionally paid the bills and hopefully generated a profit.  In particular, advertising pays for content.  The relationship is symbiotic; ideally, high quality and compelling content helps to attract a better audience, and enables the publisher to attract more advertising, and to charge more for that exposure.  Likewise, high advertising rates, and lots of advertising, enable publishers to purchase high quality and compelling content.

In reality, traditional print publishing has been suffering at the hands of the Web for the last fifteen years.  Thanks to the public nature of websites, the Web has been wildly successful at making everyone a publisher (case in point: this blog).  It’s even possible to build a large audience if you know what you’re doing and willing to take the time and effort.  In fact, you can quickly build a reader base, and know a whole lot more about that reader base than any print publication.

All of this means that advertising can’t pay for high quality content, and lower quality content can no longer attract readers.  Print publications, especially newspapers, often still have good cash flow, which is maintained by reducing the quality and amount of content.  This reduces readership and subsequently advertising still more.  I call this the “spiral of death” for a print publication.

According to eMarketer, “. . . print newspaper spending has already been cut in half since 2006, and online has done relatively little to make up the difference.  By contrast, total US online ad spending will continue double-digit growth through 2014, when it will surpass $40 billion.”

I hear various reasons why such a trend won’t continue:

–          It’s different in my industry

–          The allure of the Web will pass

–          Print will always be with us

–          I like the feel of paper in my hands

And so on.  But advertising support for print continues to fall.  Which means that newspapers and magazines will become smaller, with less content and lower quality content, and fewer reasons to read.  At some point, the economics will reach a point of no return.  I don’t think it will take much longer.

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