BoSacks isn’t one to hold back. So his recent comments on the print side of the magazine business are making some waves.
In a recent newsletter, BoSacks cites in particular the “charmingly enthusiastic” information in two specific articles – one from Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni on August launch numbers; the other from MediaPost reporting on solid print magazine readership numbers.
“The bottom line here is what we do with the information we get and how it applies to our everyday job as publishers,” he notes.
“Like most of the industry I have been tracking Mary Meeker’s Time Spent with Media Chart. It has shown how much time the public spends with all types of media. When I started to track it in 2007 time spent with print was 9%. Print now receives about 4% of all time that is spent with media,” he continues.
Then he drops the bomb.
“I think that in the next few years print will go as low as 1% and hover there for quite some time. That doesn’t mean the end of print nor the end of magazines which will still be valued in the billions, but it will be a far cry from the 37 billion dollar revenues we had in 2007.”
One percent? That’s a wildly pessimistic number. We don’t see it happening, for a number of reasons.
“Try to tell this to the editor of People magazine or the CEO of Topix Media Labs,” Samir Husni replied when we asked his thoughts on Bo’s prediction. “In the case of the latter all his money is coming from print and from the newsstands to be more specific.”
Let’s think about the numbers for a minute. The pie – the total amount of media produced and published — is growing. So that 9% of time spent back in 2007 doesn’t really compare minute for minute to the 4% spent today. Yes, it’s a smaller slice … but it’s a much larger pie to carve.
Secondly, Husni notes something interesting about the Mequoda numbers cited in the MediaPost piece: “As for the study did you notice that almost 60% of those who said they read a digital something did not pay for it? If advertisers are leaving or being blocked, where is the money coming from?” Husni asks.
As consumers grow increasingly fed up with ad bloat and other digital advertising nonsense, they are going to be less in love with high cost of all that free digital content. The rapid growth in digital ad blocking proves this out, and advertisers are scrambling to figure out how to work around this.
Meanwhile, for those who claim that print ads are over-indexed, one GFK cross-media study last year showed that print continues to have the highest ROI of all media, at 120%. Advertisers know this, and buy accordingly — print ad revenues rebounded in 2013 according to MPA stats.
Finally, study after study shows that consumers prefer print over digital for pleasure and educational reading. Print remains the dominant medium for magazines. Digital is making gains and publishers are leveraging that channel to help offset print sale dips. Still, some brands are absolutely making a go sans digital – Monocle for one continues to knock it out of the park, with a pull-no-punches understanding that digital is not going to be their savior.
This is not to say that print publishing is a cake walk. Indeed, the industry has changed, radically. The business of print magazines is not for the faint-hearted.
“Things are indeed changing, but the change is going to be like the fire that refines the gold,” Husni continues. “We are going to have better gold in the future.” And better gold will bring better engagement, and an increase in time spent with print.
One thing we absolutely do agree on is the potential in high quality, tightly focused niche titles. And with increasing pressure from other forms of media, printed magazines better be “damned good,” as BoSacks says. “In fact, they will have to be excellent to survive.”
“The print magazine herd will continue to be culled until what is left will be of great value to both the publishers that are still left standing and to the advertisers who want to reach that kind of specific reader, the reader of printed magazines,” he predicts.
We agree, and it’s one of the main reasons that we remain oh so charmingly optimistic that his dire 1% prediction will be proven wrong.