News Column

Print Medium: Struggling, But Alive

Dec. 13, 2011

Richard Larsen, Deputy Managing Editor

The framed editorial cartoon hanging in my study is a classic example of simplicity and symbolism. A father sits comfortably in his easy chair reading the newspaper. His teenage son, wires drooping from his earbuds to his MP3 player, stands slouched, looking over his father's shoulder. Says the son: "I didn't know they printed those news websites."

It easily captures the digital divide between the generations, but it also offers a subtly ominous message for the print medium: When the son reaches his father's age, a different kind of newspaper might exist. And that has major implications for every print medium.

Predictions of print medium's demise go back as far as 1999 when Dan Okrent -- then editor-at-large for Time Inc. -- gave a lecture to Columbia University journalism students. After extolling the virtues of newspapers, magazines and books, Mr. Okrent said: "I believe they, and all forms of print, are dead. Finished. Over. Perhaps not in my professional lifetime, but certainly in that of the youngest people in this room."

Mr. Okrent forecast that the demise would come at a minimum of 20 years and at the outside 40 years from his talk. Well, it's been more than 12 years since he gave his talk and while the print medium has been shaken in recent years, it is far from dead, especially when it comes to magazines, especially Hispanic magazines.

Well-Read Medium
MPA, the Association of Magazine Media, mined a variety of data to paint a strong portrait of magazines in its 2011/2012 Magazine Media Factbook:

-- Ninety-three percent of people 18 and older read magazines. Of those younger than 35, 96 percent read magazines, and for the 24 and younger category, 97 percent read magazines.

-- More than 75 percent of adult Hispanics read magazines, averaging 11.8 issues per month, slightly higher than the U.S. average.

-- The number of magazines serving Hispanic readers grew from 155 in 2006 to 184 titles in 2010, an 18.7 percent increase.

-- In the percent change from 2006-10, magazine audiences grew at 3.8 percent, compared to 3.2 percent for television and a 7.2 percent decline for newspapers.

-- Magazine usage among baby boomers with household incomes of $50,000 plus is unsurpassed by any other media, including the Internet.

Early Hope
2008 and 2009 were dismal years for magazines, according to the Pew Research Center's State of the News Media 2011 report, because of sagging circulation and advertising sales. But the drain on both indicators began to flatten out in 2010, and the Pew report said both areas bore signs of improving more this year. Have they?

For Hispanic magazines, the year has proved bountiful for the first nine months. Data from HispanicMagazineMonitor (HMM), a service of Media Economics Group, show that, while ad pages for all consumer magazines were down 1.3 percent through the third quarter, Hispanic magazines ad pages were up 0.6 percent. But more impressive, despite ad pages being relatively flat during the first nine months of this year, ad dollars spent with Hispanic magazines increase by 23.8 percent, according to HMM.

In all, the estimated advertising revenues for the top Hispanic magazines in the first three quarters of the year come in at $126.7 million. The total number of ad pages for these magazines came in at 3,275.01. Ad page growth was hampered, Media Economics said, because several magazines cut their frequency. In 2010, TV y Novelas and Vanidades cut their frequencies from 18 issues in 2010 to 12 issues in 2011. TV Notas trimmed is frequency in half, from 51 issues in 2010 to 26 in 2011. However, the magazines that trimmed their frequencies managed to increase their rate base significantly and raise rates, Media Economics said, making ad revenue gains. For example, ad revenues for Vanidades are up 26.1 and TV y Novelas are up 26.1 percent from January through September.

Cautionary Period
While this beginning rebound from the dismal years of 2008 and 2009 brought a flicker of hope, it is still tempered with caution. Kantar Media reported that ad spending in the second quarter of this year slowed a bit and continues to slow.

Kantar has trimmed its forecast on ad spending to 1.8 percent for this year. Media research firm MagnaGlobal cut its ad spending forecast from 4.8 percent to 2.9 percent. In an Oct. 11 online story, MarketWatch reported that MagnaGlobal cited "slowdown in real personal consumption expenditures, manufacturing activity, and ongoing problems in the labor and housing markets" as reasons for downgrading its forecast.

Will the fourth quarter continue the upward momentum for Hispanic magazine advertising revenues? Diego Vasquez, writing for Media Life Magazines, quotes Carlos Pelay, founder and president of Media Economics Group: "It appears Hispanic magazines are recovering at a faster rate than broadcast and newspaper ..., but not as quickly as cable and Internet."

So far this year, Hispanic magazines have shown resilience to the sluggish recovery and headed into the final quarter of the year with strong advertising revenues. It would have to be a major turndown in advertising spending to erase the gains made thus far.

Compelling Future
Print finished? Not quite, even though the future looks a bit murky. However, strategies abound for keeping print alive with a strong digital strategy.

The Magazine Media Factbook parses data from several sources to note these important points:

-- Eighty-seven percent of people interested in reading magazines still want a printed copy even if they read the issue on a digital device.

-- Seventy-five percent of consumers feel digital content complements print, while only 25 percent feel it replaces print.

The factbook also noted that "Nielsen found that 35 percent of iPad owners say they 'enjoy viewing ads' on their iPads."

So, far from being a nearly extinct medium, especially when it concerns magazines, print remains a viable medium. Then again, perhaps it's not the medium that's dying, just the delivery system. After all, whether printed or digital, a magazine remains a compilation of written words, artwork and photographs, and advertisements.

Source: (c) 2011. All rights reserved.

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