The Surprising Stats Behind the Decline in Print Ads this Year

Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni has a way of getting down to the root of things; it’s one of the reasons we are such big fans of Husni’s blog here at Freeport Press.

As an example, he recently took 16 of his students from the Magazine Innovation Center at U. Miss to visit Todd Krizelman, CEO of ad sales intelligence firm Media Radar. 

“During Todd’s presentation he mentioned that 20,400 print advertisers stopped buying print in the first four months of 2018,” Husni writes. “So, I asked him the common sense question that any journalist should ask when faced with a statistic like that.”

That question, of course, is: If they aren’t advertising in print, where did they go?

Krizelman didn’t have the answer at the ready, and he promised to dig deeper. What he found tears down the theory that advertisers are mostly abandoning print in favor of digital.

“There is a decline in print advertising in 2018, but very few of the brands who stopped placing ads in print moved to digital (which is so often the assumption),” Krizelman reported back. Overall there were 87,943 brands that stopped buying print ads altogether – but much of that can be attributed to normal advertiser churn.

“In most years we observe that only about half of advertisers buy again in the following year,” he explains. “This at first seems surprising, but it’s not unexpected,” he continues. Perishable advertisers (like real estate listings and movie campaign) and changing product lines account for a lot of this churn, and it’s perfectly normal. As these ads drop off, new ads in these categories take their place.

What’s unusual is the unexpected churn, which amounted to a net loss of some 20,000 brands. Krizelman found that much of this churn was in retail and real estate, both down sharply overall. 

“There were ~8,000 retailers that went out of business in 2017, more than any other year in history (Source: Fung Global Retail & Technology/ Credit Suisse), and the single worst year since 2008, when the market last collapsed,” he notes. Also playing into this is the downturn in mortgage refis and related advertising, as interest rates rose. 

What he didn’t see is a mass exodus to digital ads.

“Of the 87,943 advertisers that stopped placing in print in 2018, 7,467 (8%) instead ran a digital campaign in 2018 during the same time period,” he said, continuing, “92% of the 87,943 stopped buying all together.

“Of the 7,467 brands buying digital in 2018, 3,228 of them were new to digital (they didn’t run digital campaigns Jan-Apr 2017). This means that just 3.6% actively moved their business from print to digital this year.”

Yes, print advertising is down, and print media brands have to work smarter to sell the value of print. But at least now we can focus on what’s really happening, and stop throwing up our hands thinking digital is the real problem. The industry is adapting to make print ads easier to buy and place, and brands are increasingly aware that eyeballs are not the answer. Keep educating your ad partners and sharing all the good things you know about print.