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Some publications are born digital. Others become digital. And then, there are those that swing both ways……To grow revenue, digital and traditional publishing worlds need to ‘co-habit’ and benefit each other.
The debate as to whether print publications have a place in the consumption habits of today’s consumer, continues to rage. Nowhere is this debate louder though than when discussing the merits of traditional vs online advertising. Both print and digital publishing realms rely heavily on this as income and with ever shrinking advertising budgets, the bucks need to work harder in an increasingly fragmenting market. One way to do this is to take account of today’s readers’ consumption habits. By doing this, there is a place for both and the most beneficial relationship would be one where a push/pull strategy maximises the relationship for all parties concerned.
Whilst publications that are ‘born digital’ have the advantage of immediately understanding the online terrain and these habits, this doesn’t mean that print publications cannot follow suit. Old dogs can – and must – learn new tricks. Within the modern publishing and media consumption ecosystem, for print publications to sustain their viability in terms of readership and advertising revenues, an effective digital extension of their product is essential.
Readers are not simply forsaking print in favour of digital, but are choosing different channels to consume their media at different times or in different locations. They’re mixing it up to suit their lifestyles, and taking advantage of everything that each medium has to offer. It is not a clear cut divorce case, with print being left alone, broken-hearted, whilst digital sweeps off triumphant with the reader. Rather, consumers are enjoying the freedom of choice that polygamous relationships bring. They’ve become swingers, consuming media in print as they linger over breakfast and the Sunday papers, catch up on the FTSE on their desktops at lunchtime, flick through their favourite mag on their tablets, or reach out to read the morning headlines on their mobile phones before getting out of bed.
Although print readership in SA is still healthy, (revenue growth rates for newspapers forecast at 5.2% and magazines at 6.6%*), the number of broadband and mobile Internet connections in South Africa is growing by around 25% annually and online media consumption is increasing exponentially. But, despite the (marginal) growth in the total number of SA print publications, revenue from print ad sales is not keeping pace and digital ad revenue is needed to help support the industry. Savvy print owners realise that to survive and once again thrive, they must follow the audience and move towards becoming omni-channel publications, with multiple revenue streams.
The New York Times, which introduced a paywall limiting free articles on its digital product as early as 2011, has instituted further measures to curtail declining revenues. They have divested themselves of some of their print products, are reportedly adding new digital consumer publications, developing new digital advertising products, and are continuing their focus on international growth. In the process, the company’s digital subscriber base has increased by 19%, representing an increase in online subscriber revenues of 33,5% in 2013 as compared to the previous year, and slowed the overall rate of decline in both print and online advertising revenues.
Making the best of both worlds
It isn’t a competition between the old (print) and the new (digital). But as the consumer chooses the medium that suits him or her best, at that given moment to read his/her news and information, they also decide which ads to engage with and which not – in whatever medium.
While print is still holding its own in Africa, digital technology and communication methods can actually help to grow traditional print advertising. As an example, print can direct readers to send an SMS (text) to receive a specific message or piece of content. Likewise, a print advert is given ‘legs’ when it refers to further information available via the digital route. Print adverts can also be the catalyst for a digital experience that will lead to the reader winning a reward.
Making the best of both worlds, will therefore help restricted advertising budgets work harder, spread further and be ‘answerable’, but only provided consumers’ preferences and information consumption patterns are taken into account. In this way, the swinging reader remains engaged.