Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Morning Brief: Trends converge to threaten print-only publishers; Apple may offer 'opt-in' approach to user data

Two stories yesterday give support to the "Print is Dead" crowd:

BtoBOnline reported on the advertising choices of the top 50 B2B advertisers yesterday. The report showed the continued move away from B2B magazines, and print, in general.

Last year these top advertisers spent 27.6 percent less with B2B magazines, which increasing their Internet advertising by an almost equal percentage. While the top brands may not be the lifeblood of most B2B magazines, the writing is certainly on the wall for those hoping to attract big national brands to their print products: better to bring them in via the web.

The report did not break out mobile advertising in the report, though it may be assumed that this is considered Internet.

A second survey revealed that the wealthy are increasingly preferring to get their editorial content from the Interent or their e-reading device than from print magazines. While print magazine readership among the wealthy slipped 16 percent last year, readership of the same content online, or through such devices as an iPad or Kindle rose 12 percent.
"The consumer is getting more and more comfortable with the alternative platforms," said Bob Shullman, president of Ipsos Mendelsohn, the author of the survey report.

So what we have here is a convergence, of sorts: we already know that younger, mostly male readers are migrating to mobile and tablet devices (as well as the Internet), that the wealthy, regardless of age, are doing the same. Following this audience are the largest B2B advertisers.

My attitude towards the future of print media has not changed much in the last year or two: I still believe that print will survive as a profitable format (for some) but that it will also continue to shrink in size as readers migrate to electronic reading devices. Magazines that are hugely profitable now should continue to be so in the future -- barring the usual whims of readers and advertising. But any marginal, or unprofitable publications should not expect that an improving economy will automatically mean a reverse of fortune.

(I received a venerable B2B title in the mail yesterday, run by a very pro-sales publishing outfit, that was virtually ad-less except for an obviously ad-for-edit section near the back of the book. Unfortunately, I see this all too often as the rise in available advertising dollars has not meant that print magazines, especially B2B print magazines, will be recovering any time soon.

The San Jose Mercury News ran a story yesterday claiming that Apple will soon introduce a new subscription plan for newspapers, though it appears to be based on the same old 70-30 revenue split model Apple has consistently employed within the iTunes App Store.

According to the story, Apple will use an "opt-in" function that will allow Apple to share information with publishers. But an opt-in method implies that consumers can "opt-out", as well -- and I don't see how this works for publishers.

Newspaper publishers "want the data of their customers so they can integrate it into their circulation database so they know who their customers are," Roger Fidler, head of digital publishing at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, is reported to have said.

Here is a question: is an iPad sale the same as a home delivery subscription, or a street sale? If it is the equivalent of a home delivery sale than the publisher would expect to get the same level of information from the buyer -- name, address, phone number, and possibly e-mail address. If a street sale, then the only information a newspaper circulation department typically receives in the location of the sale.

I suppose Apple could state that publishers really shouldn't expect much more than their cut of the sale, just as a newsstand vendor simply passes on the money, but little else.

On the other hand, many publishers see huge potential in targeted advertising, location-based advertising, and other revenue opportunities in this new readership.

The NY media business is a buzz with speculation following the release of a rather vague memo by WSJ managing editor Robert Thomson announcing the appointment of two editors to head a "Special Project".

Roy Greenslade of The Guardian speculates on the possibility that the Murdoch unit may be thinking of launching two new tablet-only publications -- one consumer oriented, the other more business focused.

While it is fun to speculate, one senses that any tablet project coming out of a big, traditional media firm like News Corp. will take months and months to come to fruition. In the meantime, more nimble publishers and developers continue to launch products that actually appear inside the iTunes App Store.