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Best Ad Revenue Prospects: Digital or Print?

Posted on Thursday, November 29, 2018 at 9:52 PM

Digital advertising can be lucrative, but for many publishers print advertising remains their bread and butter.

By William Dunkerley

It's not a Sophie's choice. It's not a Hobson's choice. But it's a conflicted choice we face as publishers: Do we place our hopes for revenue growth on digital? Or does print still have value?

In short, here's the dilemma: Readers are unquestionably gravitating toward digital. And not just digital in general. A 2017 Ofcom study found that 47 percent of digital device users in the US use desktops and 69 percent use smartphones.

Scratch below the surface and you see yet another dimension, as shown in Adobe's latest Digital Index. According to SmartInsights.com, it indicates that "in all industries the majority of [website] visits are still on desktop."

Print versus Digital Advertising: The Publisher's Dilemma

So there's a dilemma within a dilemma. If we bet on digital revenues for growth, do we optimize our editorial product for the desktop or smartphone reader?

Most traditional publishers have already hopped on the digital bandwagon. A lot of people are following the crowd. But they're unaware that the crowd doesn't know where it's actually going yet.

On the other hand, there's still print. While some traditional publishers are shuttering their print editions in favor of digital, there are also digital publishers and marketers that are launching print editions.

A recent issue of DMN ran the line, "Print isn't dead. It's just evolving." The direct marketing magazine asserts that "print still has an effective and well-deserved place."

Nielsen Catalina Solutions reports that print remains king when it comes to ROAS (return on ad spend). It's $3.94 for magazines versus $2.63 and $2.45 for digital display and mobile, respectively. This means your advertisers will get a better payback when advertising in your print edition versus whatever you offer them online.

Despite that stark reality, we're faced with advertisers whose vision is eclipsed by their enthrallment with digital. They're following the crowd to nowhere too.

A Plan?

DMN is advising its readers to use print, specifically direct mail, to drive attention to marketers' websites. One article claims that "print advertising could spur other kinds of interactions."

That advice may not be directly transferable to the field of magazine publishing. You see, the marketers are focused on creating an impulse to buy. Online offers a more immediate opportunity for prospects to act on that impulse. That's the payoff the marketers are seeking.

That flies in the face, however, of the superior ROAS for print magazine advertising.

As publishers, our goal should be to use an editorial product to assemble an audience of buyers that will be receptive to our advertisers. And even though print does not offer the same opportunity for a knee-jerk click, the ROAS figures speak for themselves.

DMN goes on to report that "brain wave studies verify print ad worthiness":

"Digital media is undoubtedly convenient, but scientists discovered print media still wins out in other ways. According to a study from neuromarketing firm TrueImpact, print ads require 21 percent less cognitive processing then digital media.

"Company name recall was 70 percent higher for people exposed to direct mail pieces versus digital content. Researchers also concluded the ventral striatum area of the brain -- previously connected to feelings of valuation and desire -- activated more significantly when people saw print advertisements, compared to digital ones.

"Perhaps that's because certain aspects in print ads [such as texture and brilliant colors] aren't always as apparent on a smartphone, tablet, or computer screen, as they might be when people come across larger magazine ads."

It's reasonable to suspect that the picture will be even rosier for magazine publishers. The direct mail pieces cited above are often uninvited, whereas our readers usually have chosen to receive our publications.

Developing a Sound Long-Term Print and Digital Strategy

It may be a good short-term strategy to pander to the advertisers that are clamoring for digital ads. But it will not be a sustainable tactic for the long term. One of the best ways of locking in advertiser loyalty and commitment is to sell ads that will produce the best results. For now it looks as though there's more to gain from print advertising in a very real sense.

So while marketers may be using print to drive prospects to their websites, perhaps we should be doing the opposite: using digital to aggregate an audience of qualified buyers for our advertisers and then providing that audience with a print product whose ads will produce superior results for those advertisers. That evolutionary step should benefit advertisers, readers, and publishers alike.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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