Media executives are admitting publicly that the print publishing model doesn’t appear to have a happy ending to the heavy beating it keeps taking. Folio ran a story this week titled “The Revenue Tipping Point“. It refers to the point at which online revenue gains outpace the print revenue losses at a magazine publishing company.
“While online revenue is still dwarfed by print revenue for most publishers, many are starting to see real revenue growth online exceed the real revenue loss in print on a quarterly basis. Thatâ€™s a huge justification for publishers investing online; a final warning shot for publishers resisting (and yes, there are still plenty of them out there) online investment.”
The business magazine master himself, Pat McGovern, confirmed the trend:
“At the American Business Media Spring Meeting in May, IDG Communications chairman Pat McGovern, head of a company that has been criticized for not committing sooner to the Web, spoke of how the company is now making more money online than it is losing in print.”
Agencies and marketers have been telling publishers that they were shifting budgets away from print to online media for several years. Circulation has been flat or falling across the print world. Readerhsip time spent figures have all been pointing online.
Colin Crawford also of IDG added his thoughts (and warnings) on the trend:
“Every year our print ad market contracts in terms of total advertisers and total pages and revenue and our print circulations fall. There is nothing on the horizon that indicates any sort of reversal of this trend…Transformation involves a deep cultural shift in attitude to put online first and stop over protecting print.”
The signals are everywhere, crystalized for the shortsighted in big red figures on the balance sheets.
But until only recently the investment and tradition behind print publishing and the print brands have made it very difficult for executives to tell their own staff not to mention the press that print magazine models are failing.
Why is it ok to open the kimono now? Because there’s now a story to match the strategic direction. As online revenue builds, investment will shift away from print at a reasonable pace. “We won’t have to close shop afterall,” Mr. Publisher says. “We’ll make up the losses with online revenues. Everyone just calm down and get back to what you were doing before.”
It’s a step in the right direction, but I find this story a little bit dangerous. This strategy implies that the print model has enough life left in it to make the transition only a matter of shifting money from one pocket to the other. I think many publishers will interpret this strategy as a way to hold onto their jobs while they wait for the combined print and online revenues to match pre dotcom bust earnings. It’s then that they plan to release a big sigh and head back to the golf course.
But the competition for online ad budgets is heating up, too. Unfortunately for the old school print sales guys out there, the online ad model doesn’t look the same as the print model. Banners are not the same as print pages, and, it turns out, there are several other effective and often more profitable methods for marketing online than standard banners. Many of them don’t require the overhead of a sales team. And many of them are based on totally new content production models, in case the editorial staff bought the rhetoric, too.
I guess what I’m suggesting is that spending time thinking about this tipping point is merely the first step in admitting you have a problem. But the race is on, and no doubt a bunch of publishers are going to get crushed both in print and online if they don’t actually really make the investment to turn their online businesses into valuable media vehicles.