Print vs. online newspaper readership behaviors don’t look promising at all for media properties.

New York Times CEO Mark Thompson

From the New York Times on down, leading publishers are telling us that print versions of their newspapers will eventually disappear.  The only question is how soon it will happen.

But what are the implications of this pending shift to all-digital? Will online news consumers be as strongly engaged as they have been with the print newspaper product?

We now have a window into answering this question by looking at the experience of The Independent, a UK national daily paper.  Two years ago, The Independent made the shift to become an online-only publication.

And the result was … no measurable increase traffic shifting from offline to online. That finding comes from a before/after analysis of the publication’s performance as conducted by European communications industry researchers Neil Thurman and Richard Fletcher.

What they learned is that shutting down the print property didn’t drive those news consumers to print-like consumption habits on digital devices.

Instead, these customers became like other digital readers. That is to say, in the words of the researchers, “easily distracted, flitting from link to link, and a little allergic to depth.”

Let’s drill down a little deeper. At the time it ceased publishing a print edition of its newspaper, The Independent had a paid print circulation of approximately 40,000, along with ~58 million monthly unique visits on its digital platform.

That a humongous chasm … but the researchers found that the publication’s relatively small number of print readers were responsible for more than 80% of all time spent consuming all of The Independent’s news content – print and digital.

That is correct: Considering engagement on all of its digital platforms, all of that added up to fewer than 20% of the time collectively spent reading the print publication.

The chart below shows what happened to readership. All of the time The Independent’s print readers spent with the paper seems to have simply disappeared when the company ceased publishing a print version.  It didn’t transition to independent.co.uk.

Even more telling, the researchers found that half of print recipients had read the newspaper “almost every day,” whereas online visitors read a news story in The Independent, on average, a little more than twice per month.

While print readers typically spent from 40 to 50 minutes reading each daily edition of The Independent, online readers spent, on average, just 6 minutes over the entire month.

Here’s the thing: Whereas print newspapers usually have few if any competitors in their immediate space, online there are an unlimited number of competing sites to attract (and distract) the reader – all of them just a mouse-click away.

Even if we discount a measure of exaggeration on the part of respondents in terms of how much time they actually expend on their reading consumption versus what they reported to survey-takers, the print/online dynamics reveal stark differences. As researcher Thurman reports:

“By going online-only, The Independent has decimated the attention it receives. The paper is now a thing more glanced at, it seems, than gorged on.  It has sustainability but less centrality.”

There is one silver-lining of shifting to an all-digital platform, at least in the case of The Independent.  That shift has resulted in increased international reach by the publication.

But The Independent is a national newspaper, unlike most of America’s leading papers, and so that sort of positive aspect can’t be expected to apply very easily to those other media properties.  How many people outside of central Colorado can be expected to read a digital edition of the Denver Post?

The main takeaway from The Independent’s experience is that for any paper choosing to go all-digital, chances are high that the audience isn’t going to follow along – certainly not at the level of loyal, in-depth time once spent with the print product.

Sure, the very real costs of printing and delivery will now be a thing of the past. But a significant – even dramatic – decline in reach, influence and impact will be the new reality for the publishers

Baby, meet bathwater.

Magazine readership preferences confirm the continued primacy of print.

pileIn my line of work, I receive many magazines and other publications covering not only the marketing and advertising field, but also the industries and markets of our corporate clients.

Every time one of these subscriptions comes up for renewal, I’m strongly urged to choose the online/electronic offering instead of the print edition.

I know why, of course. Between the printing, postage and shipping considerations, magazines and other printed media represent the most involved (and the most costly) form of delivery.

And there’s also the issue of “currency” and “recency,” with breaking news being covered much quicker and more efficiently online.

Still, I generally opt for print for the simple reason that a physical magazine, newspaper or newsletter is easier to browse and to read. I like the “linearity” of a print magazine and find magazine reading less satisfactory online.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m very happy digital versions of the print editions exist. I love the fact that I can go online and access an article of particular interest that I may wish to archive in electronic form, or pass along to friends and colleagues.

So, consider me an “all of the above” sort of person. Still, there are times when I think that I represent a more traditional way of thinking about consuming news articles — one that’s decidedly losing popularity.

But then … we see the results of a new digital magazine market study, published by Mequoda Group, a media consulting firm.

The survey, which was conducted in July 2015 among ~3,650 Americans adults age 18 or higher who have access to the Internet, found that digital magazine consumption has now reached ~43% of print magazine consumption.

So digital is rising.

But the Mequoda research also finds that ~70% of American adults who have access to the Internet have read an average of three print magazine issues in the past 30 days. (2.91 print magazine issues, to be precise.)

Here are the findings for print magazines read over the previous month:

  • Read one print magazine: ~18%
  • Read two: ~19%
  • Read three: ~13%
  • Read four: ~8%
  • Read five or more: ~13%

At the same time, ~37% of American adults who have access to the Internet have read an average of 2.37 digital magazine issues over the past month. Here’s how that breakdown looks:

  • Read one digital/online magazine: ~14%
  • Read two: ~8%
  • Read three: ~5%
  • Read four: ~3%
  • Read five or more: ~7%

What this means is that in 2015, print magazine readership activity outnumbers digital by a 2-to-1 margin.

The Mequoda research tested five reasons why people might prefer reading digital versions over printed versions of magazines. Of those who read digital magazines, here are the percentages who deemed those reasons “very important”:

  • Offers immediate delivery: ~42% consider very important
  • Portability / easy to carry: ~40%
  • Environmentally friendly: ~40%
  • Cheaper than print: ~39%
  • Thousands of titles: ~35%

The bottom line on this topic appears to be that the demand for print delivery of periodicals remains significant … and that publishers who elect to shift to “all-digital” delivery stand to lose at least some of their reader engagement.

Even so, I have no doubt that publishers will continue to push electronic delivery in the hopes that print can eventually fall completely by the wayside.

The full report is available free of charge from Mequoda here.

Print Publications: Hanging In There?

Print magazines are hanging in there.There’s one thing you can say about print magazines: They’re not giving up without a fight!

The latest evidence of this comes in statistics released by Mediafinder®, a magazine tracking service run by Oxbridge Communications. It turns out that in 2011, there were 239 print publications launched in the United States and Canada. That’s a 24% increase over 2010, when 193 magazines were launched.

And at the other end of the scale, the number of magazines that ceased publishing in 2011 decreased over the previous year: 152 versus 176.

Actually, new magazine startups as well as closings are down significantly from just a few years ago. The worst year was in 2009, when a whopping 596 print magazines closed (but also 275 were launched).

Reviewing the stats, it’s not hard to understand the dynamics as to why print magazines have been on the ropes. For starters, magazine newsstand sales have dropped by nearly 50% over the past decade. And ad pages in consumer magazines fell more than 30% just between 2006 and 2010.

And in 2011 year-to-date, ad pages are continuing to track a smidgen lower (-1%), but at least the trend is now nearly flat rather than steeply downward.

To be sure, magazines have tried different tactics to stem the slide. One of the more interesting moves has been by the publishing firm Meredith Corporation, which announced a plan in the summer to begin guaranteeing that advertisers’ magazine buys will yield an increase in sales for their products or services.

Dubbed the “Meredith Engagement Dividend,” the program represents a new level of accountability for “analogue” media, which long relied on fuzzier metrics like audience reach and before/after market research.

The publisher’s new program is available to advertisers who commit to a minimum level of advertising impressions annually across multiple Meredith magazine titles. It works by correlating Meredith’s magazine readers with Nielsen’s Homescan (National Consumer Panel) service. That’s the same marketing research resource many top consumer products firms use to measure their product sales.

The Nielsen/NCP database of ~85 million consumer magazine readers is used to correlate the effect magazine ads have on resulting product purchase behaviors.

Meredith claims the research shows that advertisers in four key categories – household goods, beauty products, OTC drugs and food – have increased their product sales an average of 10% via ads placed in the Meredith publications. That claim is based on measuring the sales impact of “higher frequency” ad campaigns that ran during 2009 and 2010.

It’ll be interesting to see how the performance of print magazines evolves over the next few years. For now, the steep slide appears to have ended, but there’s no real evidence of a turnaround. The question is whether publishers can adjust their operating models to continue to work within the new, lower level of business activity.

Maybe they’ll succeed. You know … hope and change and all that.

“Mag Drag 2009”: Year-End Update

Earlier this year, I reported on the sorry state of print magazine publishing as illustrated by the spate of closures reported up to that time.

Now that we’re wrapping up 2009, we can see the full scope of the damage. MediaFinder has tallied up more than 370 magazine titles that have folded over the course of the year. And the number is closer to 450 if you also include magazines that ceased to publish in print form and went to an all-digital format.

Interestingly, magazine closure stats for 2009 were actually a bit lower than in 2008 and 2007. But this year saw the demise of some pretty important titles. Among the more noteworthy casualties were:

 Country Home
 Editor & Publisher
 Gourmet Magazine
 Hallmark Magazine
 Modern Bride
 Nickelodeon
 Portfolio
 Teen
 The Advocate
 Vibe

As we move into 2010, will these trends continue, or will magazine closures level off? It’s too soon to say, but some prognosticators are forecasting a slight uptick in print magazine advertising revenues, so perhaps the worst is behind us.

But coming off of a disastrous 18-month period when print advertising revenues have tanked 25%, 30% or more, it’s hard to see how some magazines can continue to survive at the new, depressed revenue levels which will likely be a fact of life going forward.

And what about newspapers? For them, 2009 was even more depressing, with a record number of bankruptcies filed including the companies that own the Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Sun-Times, Minneapolis Star/Tribune and a number of other iconic newspaper brands. At the end of the year, though, some firms had managed to resolve their bankruptcy proceedings thanks to cash infusions, labor concessions, or selling out to new owners.