Can publishers inhabit the "best of both worlds"? 08 September , 2014

To attract, engage and inform readers, there is space for digital and traditional print advertising to ‘co-habit’ and benefit each other – says Deseré Orrill, Chief Marketing Officer, Olé! Media Group.
The debate as to whether traditional advertising or indeed print itself, has a place in the consumption habits of today’s consumer, continues to battle with the noise around how effective online advertising is and whether there is active engagement in this arena. Without a doubt, 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 understanding the online terrain and modern media consumption habits right from the start, 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 changing the way they consume media: they 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.

A report from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) confirms that print publications are under pressure globally and forecasts close to 0% global print revenue growth rates from 2013 to 2015. The forecast for South Africa is slightly rosier, with 5.2% for newspapers and 6.6% for magazines. By comparison, however, growth in internet revenues for the same period in SA is forecast to exceed 25%.

Although print readership in SA is still healthy, the number of broadband and mobile internet connections is growing by around 30% annually and online media consumption is increasing significantly. Despite the continued, albeit 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 already, 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

While it is indisputable that digital innovation knows no bounds, print is still holding its own in Africa. So local publishers should definitely seek to make the best of both worlds. In fact, digital technology and communication methods can actually help to revive traditional print advertising because the print medium can direct readers to send an SMS (text) to receive a specific message or piece of content, which can enrich the overall experience. Likewise, a print advert is given ‘legs’ when it refers to further information available via the digital route, such as a link to a website or a video or a mobisite, where the reader is offered an enhanced experience or additional useful information about the product being advertised. Similarly, print adverts can be the catalyst for a digital experience that will lead to the reader winning a reward such as an SMS competition, airtime, mobile vouchers, as well as ticket’s and so on.

Diversification is the key, and publishers need to recognise this. It isn’t a competition between the old (print) and the new (digital) – the consumer chooses the medium that suits him or her best and similarly decides which ads to engage with and which not to engage with. It is up to the publication to ensure that it remains within the consumer’s sphere of interest and to take care that the ways in which it packages and presents itself and the channels it selects to use for distribution – be these print, broadcast, online, mobile or a judicial combination of all or a selection of these media – are the best choices to achieve the overall objective of increased readership and higher engagement.

However, as advertising budgets need to work harder, spread further and be ‘answerable’, the caveat is to ensure that the ‘communication’ takes into account consumers’ preferences and information consumption patterns. Only then will the brand and user experience be maximised to everyone’s best advantage.

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