What will the future hold for print advertising?

Photograph of a stack of newspapers

Despite all of the research and debate over the subject of media, it seems to be unclear as to what fate has in store for the newspaper, the trade journal and the magazine.

At the epicentre of this uncertainty is a prolific shift in media spending patterns, fuelled by change in consumer behaviour. This is not kept secret, we all see how the global media market and advertising models are changing. Like any classic marketing model, innovation and early adoption shows us where there is a breakthrough, followed by mainstream acceptance and eventually a saturation and decline.

Making an assessment of the state of global media is challenging, primarily because media channels are both competitive and complementary; the latter is particularly true through the eyes of an advertiser. The second reason is the degree at which channels emerge. The entry barrier to publishing in the digital age may as well not exist. Compared to the age where a budding publisher would need a print press and an office full of journalists, things have levelled out spectacularly.

That said, revenues in the billions flow through traditional media platforms, so ignore the prophets of doom proclaiming the irreversible death of traditional media.

To examine the place of printed media in modern marketing terms, we can begin by looking at its qualities and its drawbacks in the context of the wider business environment.


Print advertising as a canvas for creative branding

The visual and creative freedom offered by print can be appreciated by brands, agencies and designers. With scale and full freedom to exercise branding ideas with no real confines other than dimensions, print is a format that beckons excellent creative design. This is by no means exclusive to publications, with outdoor media offering equivalent scope for the biggest of ideas.


The value of media and its audience

One thing of huge value to advertisers are well-defined audiences. Whilst behavioural, contextual and programmatic advertising are providing the type of targeting that media buyers might dream about, media interest still adds weight to an audience profile.

Another view is that the highly deliberate choice in purchasing or subscribing to a publication is a greater indication of subject interest than a passing casual engagement on the wider web.

There are two large value points here. On the consumer side, the true enthusiast is guaranteed a steady stream of content on their chosen subject, produced by experts or other enthusiasts. The second is for the advertiser who gains access to a group that is very clearly defined and demonstrates a sustained interest in a topic.

The rise of easily accessible media and associated content means passing interest can easily be fulfilled. However, it also serves a less obvious purpose which is to strengthen the definition of target audiences who show a commitment to consuming high quality, niche content on a regular basis.


The economy of print media

One of the biggest problems facing traditional publishers is the change in profitability of their business. The emergence of competing channels is responsible for a significant proportion of these diminished returns. Advances in printing technology cannot match the financial leanness of digital platforms and comparing revenues of large media businesses can demonstrate quite clearly the success of technology-driven advertising platforms.

Traditional publishers face a dilemma. Do they shift focus to online media? Should they rely on a traditional staffing model and infrastructure or decentralise? Employ a paywall or rely on advertising? With diminished profits, it is a serious challenge for large media organisations to adapt quickly enough to effectively battle the competition and achieve comparable economy of scale.


Media, immediacy and longevity

If there is anything that classically defines advertising agencies, it’s the deadline. Timing is always a factor in marketing or advertising, whether it’s a carefully planned campaign or not. Printed media is somewhat lacking in flexibility due to its reliance on booking and artwork deadlines.

By contrast, digital channels often give the opportunity to launch campaigns at a moment’s notice and to withdraw, reschedule and edit them with similar efficiency.


What else is impacting printed media?

Aggregation of news makes word spread quickly without the availability of printed media. The risk of course is that this can result in distortion or misquotation and on more volatile topics, commentary can drown out valuable informed reports. News providers staffed by responsible and professional journalists offer substantial value to society. With recent concerns over the veracity of news from emergent sources, it may however be that a renewed value is placed upon independent journalism from trusted publishers.


Where does the future lie?

It’s extremely difficult to predict the exact balance that will be established as the media landscape changes. The likelihood is that large traditional media outlets will adapt their strategies and diversify their interests, explore emerging technologies and use brand equity to break into new markets. This is not to say that any single platform will become extinct by return. It is more probable that niche markets will form from larger audiences. As part of an integrated marketing strategy, this has plenty to offer the communications and advertising professional.


The media industry is a fascinating one, albeit one of the fastest and most dynamic. From the perspective of the advertiser or media buyer, the key to success in media partnerships remains the same simple question: “Is this where my future customers are, right now?”