Alan Mutter, who calls himself the Newsosaur and whose opinions on the news business I deeply respect, points out that newspapers are now well into their sixth year of declines in advertising demand. In a recent blog post, he noted that annual newspaper sales hit $10.7 billion in 2006 – and now stand at $4.3 billion, about the same level as 1983. And they continue to drop.
While the drop in advertising isn’t new for newspapers, it hasn’t always been their No. 1 problem. Credit for that goes to the systemic and ongoing declines in circulation. Newspapers are simply less relevant across society than they once were.
But the dynamic behind shrinking advertising is different; it’s more like the experience of magazines – especially business-to-business – over the past decade.
I’ve written about the reasons behind the loss of advertising for magazines, and I’m not alone. The issue isn’t that advertising has ceased to work; I don’t believe that’s the case now, nor do I foresee the day when it is.
The issue is that other things now work better. And by other things, I really mean one other thing: social media.
First, more people are involved in social media than in any other media channel. If you lump together YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Slideshare and the thousands of other social media websites, day-to-day participation is as broad as any other media channel.
Further, in most cases participation is free – even for the marketers, at the most basic level.
Further still, results are always measurable.
The equation is really simple: Marketers who are pulling back on their traditional advertising are merely following the lead of other marketers. And those who are not actively involved in social media are negligent. Marketers need to be where the people are, so they simply aren’t going to ignore a media channel that has so quickly attracted a large percentage of the world’s population.
I could predict that advertising revenues are going to continue their decline for newspapers, because consumer advertisers are now discovering what business-to-business advertisers learned several years ago: With social media, you can (and should) become your own publisher – developing an audience and serving it with meaningful, interesting and helpful content.
That doesn’t mean newspapers, magazines or any other type of print media are doomed. But newspapers of the future will be very different than they were just six years ago. The sooner they figure out how to unhitch their fortunes from advertising, the better off they’ll be.