Business & Design: The Future of Print Media

Recent data that suggests glossies could be headed for extinction

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An article out last week via The Daily Beast about the latest quarterly earnings report from the New York Times got me once again thinking about print media, and more specifically about the seemingly trepidatious shift from paper to digital content that media outlets are attempting to navigate.

As with most any other issue, it does all seem to come down to economics, and as this is our ‘Business & Design’ column, I decided to investigate the bottom line for publishers, to better understand where advertising dollars are being spent, and to pose the question: Is it important to our industry for shelter publications to continue to produce in paper?

Senate Rebukes Recent FCC Bill Over Media Ownership…………………………

I began my decade long association with the magazine industry in 1997 after meeting Stephen Earle, who was at the time the Style Editor at Martha Stewart Living.  I had an amazing 7 year run with Martha and her staff, appearing in the magazine and on her television show on numerous occasions.  But things have changed radically in subsequent years.  Last November it was reported that the parent company, MSLO, would scale back its publishing business to 2 titles – Martha Stewart Living and Martha Stewart Weddings – effectively laying off 70 employees (roughly 12% of its staff) and that both ad dollars and circulation have dropped, by 30% and 17% respectively.

Martha isn’t the only publisher who’s been affected by the convergence of a puttering economy and the proliferation of digital media.  Both subscription sales and newsstand sales of Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, People, and US Weekly were all off sharply last year.  And as for advertising dollars, it was reported on MediaLifeMagazine.com that online-ad sales are projected to outpace print-ads for the first time this year in the US, and will continue to grow in double digits year over year through 2017.  And a post on Go-Gulf.com explained why the online advertising market is experiencing such significant growth – suggesting that with digital advertising companies can easily track online campaign performance, create customized campaigns for specific audiences, and can very easily change campaigns upon reviewing the metrics.

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That brings me to the subject of comparing print and digital media profit margins.  I tried to contact Newell Turner for a comment (who you may remember I wrote about last October when Hearst promoted him to Editor-in-Chief of it’s then newly organized Design Group.)  He was in San Francisco for the Decorator Showcase opening this weekend, and was unfortunately not available for comment.

I did however read a post via JimRomnesko.com about Hearst turning a profit on digital magazine subscriptions.  In the story published in January of this year, Hearst Magazines president David Carey, in a letter to the company’s employees, stated that the publisher now had “800,000 digital subscriptions, and that they were now profitable after 24 months of investment [in digital platforms].”

Couple that with the fact that Apple’s iPad sales continue to skyrocket even with the news reported last week in The New York Times that Apple’s profits slipped by 18% in it’s recent quarterly report, and it’s clear (at least as far as Hearst and Apple are concerned) that digital content is only in it’s infancy, and is only likely to expand.

Now for that question I mentioned at the beginning of this post.  Is it important to our industry for shelter publications to continue to produce in paper?  I asked veteran design blogger and interior designer Patrick J Hamilton, and Washington DC based interior designer Raji Radhakrishnan to weigh in.  Here are their comments;

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PJH:  “Print gives us a sense of permanence, a sense of importance, a feel of credibility.  Plus, in print, I actually look at and save the ads.  I can’t think of the last time I ever, EVER clicked on a banner ad or did a screen-capture from something that popped up on an online publication or site.

Plus, I stare at a computer screen so much already, doing floor plans, researching product, emailing clients and vendors, the LAST thing I want to do, when looking at interior design in my leisure time, is to look at another screen.  No.  Just no.  Long live print!”

Raji:  “In all fairness, print and digital media can’t really be compared, as they cater to different demographics and actually converging in many aspects (print brands have their own digital content and the mags are all available digitally too).  I do like the pure digital mags too, they are young and a lot of fun, but the best of print shelter publications are obviously way more mature in terms of substance and in telling the stories, and most importantly they “edit”, thanks to the limited number of pages, which is the hardest thing of all.”

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What’s your opinion about the future of media?  Do you thinks it’s important for publishers to keep print magazines on the landscape of interior design, or do you think digital content could replace them?

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Written by CJ Dellatore

 

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