The Future Of Print Publications

Posted on 4/10/2007 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Are You Ready For A Steady Decline?

If you want to continue to take pictures for a living, it's time to start learning to shoot video. Why? because newspapers and magazines, the life blood of professional still photographers, are beginning to move away from print and toward online. Once online offerings have been established, video and sound become more appealing and a better way to tell stories than with still images. There is already movement in that direction and it's a trend that can only increase.

It's not only editorial photographers that need to be concerned, but advertising photographers, as well, if they shoot images that are used in print publications. There will be fewer ad pages in the publications that survive.

Many in the stock photo business want to believe that newspapers and magazines are such an important part of our culture and the way we receive information that they will always be with us. Thus, there is no reason for concern. I agree that print publications will not disappear completely, or overnight, but consider a few facts.

  • There are a steady stream of stories about newspapers and magazines losing readership and advertising. Some publications are folding, but almost every one is much less profitable than it was a few years ago.

  • According to Dave Morgan of Online Spin, ad revenue in most large newspaper markets is expected to drop 3% to 5% per year for the next five years. If we take away papers that are dumped on schools, hotels and in free trials, paid newspaper circulation in the U.S. is expected to drop 3% to 7% per year over the next five years.

  • In 2006 The Washington Post lost 3% of its readers, 4% of its ad revenue and 14% of its classified recruitment ad revenues - and these revenues fell almost twice as steeply in the 4th quarter as in previous quarters indicating steeper declines ahead. While ad revenues on are growing at a substantial rate the web operation generated only 14.5% of total Washington Post ad revenue in 2006.

  • In 1950 on average every household in American bought 1.23 newspapers per day. By 1990 only 67% of households bought a newspaper and by 2000 it was down to 53%.

  • The problem is not just in the U.S. The most recent figures available from the World Association of Newspapers showed that daily paid newspapers in the European Union saw a 0.61 percent drop in circulation in 2005 and a 5.26 percent fall over the five years through 2005. However it is not just the fall in circulation that is the problem. As costs rise, advertisers have to pay more to reach fewer readers and many advertisers are saying enough is enough and looking for other ways to get their message to consumers.

  • Statistics show that people are not spending as much of their free time reading publications as they have in the past. They spend a lot more time watching TV (video and sound),getting information online and playing games.

  • And if that's not enough, consider what Warren Buffet, the world's second richest man has to say. For more than 15 years he has argued that the newspaper business has a declining growth potential. In his recent annual letter to shareholders he pointed out that the young are getting their information from the internet and the old - the ones who read newspapers - are going to their graves.

    Advertisers pay for audience - The Right Audience

  • Print journalism can not exist without advertising. There are very few publications, other than some very expensive scholarly ones that are supported entirely by subscription fees. Most print publications are useful only as long as they are an effective tool for advertisers.

  • Readers never look at or read the vast majority of the content (including ads) in print publications. There are at least two factors that come into play here. One is time. There are many more demands on a reader's time than there used to be. Also each reader's interests are narrow at any moment in their lifetime -- and getting narrower in relation to total information available. In an effort to supply something that will be of interest to everyone publishers try to put a little bit of everything into their publication. The end result is not enough of anything to satisfy the customer. This disconnect makes it increasingly unlikely that newspapers and magazines will help advertisers achieve their goal of getting their message to potential customers in a cost effective way.

    What readers want is a summary of information that is of interest to them at the moment -- and the ability to drill down when the summary points to something of greater interest. They are not interested in a broad brush of information that someone thinks they "should" be interested in, but in fact is of absolutely no interest to them.

  • Young people are much more inclined to get information on the net and they want it faster. The morning newspaper is publishing yesterday's news - the same news the reader saw on TV the night before. The Internet provides news and information throughout the day.

    The Dallas Morning News has noticed that the peak period for traffic on its web site is between 8am and 4pm. People are getting their news while they are at work after they have received their morning newspaper (with yesterday's news) and before the nightly news comes on.

  • Advertisers are looking for ways to get better value for their advertising dollars. In general, they are decreasing print ad budgets and pumping more money into online because new search-engine marketing tools allow them to drill down more precisely to potential customers who are really interested in buying their goods and services. The Internet also allows them to tell their story with motion and sound.

  • Most print publications will eventually die due to the huge costs of printing and distribution. And with the Internet these costs are eliminated. The product is available instantly as soon as the story is produced. Eventually, the Internet will provide readers with ways to quickly locate stories they want to read or refer to, and print out anything they don't want to read on the monitor. In many instances this functionality already exists and it can only get better.

  • With the Internet there are no mailing or shipping costs. Printing costs if there are any are fully absorbed by the reader rather then the publisher. (As I write this, I'm printing out a 260 page report that I want to examine and mark up in some detail. The report will be printed out in less time than it takes me to write one page.)

  • While newspapers may be hit first and hardest, many magazines are also getting thinner, or folding. Think about the recent folding of Meredith Corporation's Child magazine. The magazine had a circulation of 740,534 in the last half of 2006, but that was an 18.5% decrease from the previous year. Advertising had fallen 14.4%. Publications may have big circulations and still fail because the costs are overwhelming.

    Meredith is launching a web site in July that will have the Child content along with that of Parents, American Baby and Family Circle. Once a publication is online it makes more sense to use video imagery rather than stills to tell many of their stories.

  • Those newspapers that are looking to the future believe it will be in supplying content online and on mobile devices. Many publications are moving to expand their internet operations and for most the internet side of the business is much more profitable than print.

    On the other hand Buffet says, "The economic potential of a newspaper Internet site - given the many alternative sources of information and entertainment that are free and only a click away - is at best a small fraction of that existing in the past for a print newspaper facing no competition."

    The question is, given the much lower cost of operating a web site, will that "small fraction" be enough to provide the producers with a profit, or will there be enough readers willing to pay something for certain information and opinion from recognized experts despite the wealth of free information on the web?

  • An interesting trend at the major networks is that they do short stories on air, but then encourage listeners to check out information on their web site that is provided in much greater depth. More and more people seeking information will be looking for ways to be kept up to date with quick summaries of everything that might be of interest to them in particular subject area that interest then have an easy way to link, or get more in depth information.

  • The next time you watch TV look at the ads. How many of those ads are really of interest to the typical viewer of the program? Most are only of interest to a small segment of that viewer population. And how many times are they repeated in an hour? Marketers are going to find more cost effective ways to reach the right customers rather than spending increasing amounts of money on mass advertising.

    Thoughts From Dirck Halstead

    Dirck Halstead of The Digital Journalist ( says that by 2016 most of the "major camera manufacturers that are now associated with still photography will probably be out of business." He continued, "Of the majors now selling cameras, I would put my money on only Canon to survive. That is because they have a farsighted video division, which will provide the research and development that will be a key to their survival."

    "Video... will undoubtedly become the main means of acquisition in photography. Today, almost all the manufacturers of prosumer video cameras have moved to High Definition. These cameras, off the shelf, are capable of delivering a 2-megapixel still image. The Dallas Morning News is now equipping their still photographers with Sony Z1U video cameras, and they have created an algorithm that allows those frame grabs to be boosted to 16 megapixels, which only two years ago was the maximum you could get out of a professional 35mm camera. The Dallas Morning News is regularly running 4- and 5-column front-page pictures from these video grabs. Then, they put the streaming video on their Web site."

    "The financial imperative to newspapers is clear. Their salvation, in a time of plummeting ad revenues on their broadsheets, lies with their online versions. Online demands video. For this reason, we can comfortably say that in 10 years photojournalists will only be carrying video cameras," Halstead continued.

    The advertising community is scared and doing everything it can to delay the inevitable. The goal of agencies is to convince the companies that pay them big bucks to produce major national campaigns that such campaigns are the best way to sell products and services. Unfortunately, the results for dollars spent are in steady decline and companies will only buy this argument so long.

    Consider this little story told by Jan Leth, executive creative director of OgilvyInteractive North America. The agency was assigned by Six Flags to do a promotion for the amusement park's 45th anniversary. "They wanted to give away 45,000 tickets for opening day to drive traffic. So we got a brief to do whatever: ads, microsite, whatever." While the creative people were trying to plan the project, the creative director went off and posted the ticket give away on Craigslist. "Five hours later, 45,000 tickets were spoken for," Leth said. "No photo shoot. No after-shoot drinks at Shutters," and with some irony he continued, "Now, the trick is, how do we get paid?"

    Are You Ready? Are You Preparing For Your Next Career?

  • Copyright © 2007 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

    Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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