Peter Wagner: Printed publications continue to evolve and fill need

The biggest problem publishing newspapers today is public perception. Every newspaper, from the largest metro to the smallest family-owned community weekly, is judged by the actions of all the others.

If a large chain decides to reduce the number of day they publish or the size of their news room both broadcast and social media report it as a sure sign “print is dead.”

But print isn’t dead. Newspapers are simply facing the same challenges impacting most traditional retailers in this time of increased on-line marketing. Both newspaper and shopper publishers are often told they are the buggy-whip manufacturers of the modern age. But those who say such don’t consider that, although the buggy-whip business is long gone, the importance, status and value of a fine horse remains.

Quality newspapers, filled with well-edited local information significant to the community and the family, will – like the fine racehorse – continue to have importance, status and value. Without a local easy to reach and read printed voice, there is no community and no consensus. Without established communities the distribution of on-line products would be difficult if not impossible.

Food, fashion and every day family health, care and activity product buyers are going to eventually, like the nation’s early pioneering families, want to find. touch, taste and buy local. The trend to on-line buying will peak and the desire for “hometown” convenience will return. Newspapers and free-circulation papers may not look exactly the same as they do right now, but they will exist, and they will be financially successful.

Gen Z favors magazines, newspapers
Take the Gen Z demographic, ages 11 to 19, for example. That age group, says MNI Targeted Media, a division of Meredith Corporation. spends more time reading print newspapers and magazines without interruption than they do social media, websites and blogs. Once removed from the explosive period of emerging smartphones, the Gen Z group doesn’t find the fascination with the immediate gratification undocumented news their elders find in their tiny screens.

Gen Z reports they trust print publications over other media to deliver credible information says the May 2018, study. Some 83% say they turn to newspapers for trusted information and content and 34% turn to magazines. Fifty percent wish they had more time away from technology and 48% wish they put their phones down more.

Amazon to print a toy catalog
If print is dead and on-line is king, why is Amazon planning to print a toy catalog this Christmas season? Like Sears and Wards did years ago, the on-line sales giant hopes to capture the “Toys-R-Us” shopper with a giant, colorful printed catalog.

And folks say print is dead?

The Amazon toy catalog will be mailed to Prime members as well as made available to shoppers at Whole Foods.
Such retailer toy catalogs hadn’t completely disappeared with Sears and Wards dropping their versions a decade or more ago. Both Walmart and Target continue to print them every year. Kids, even in the age of handheld technology, still prefer to dream over printed catalogs to find the exact items for their Christmas wish lists. Everything that goes around eventually comes around.

Many media experts say that brick and mortar stores are dying, But the greater possibility is they are, like newspapers, just evolving.

The decline of local radio
If newspapers are dying what about local radio. I recently learned from a newspaper broker, who also handles radio station sales, that radio station sales are flat. “It is much more difficult to sell a community radio station then a newspaper,” he told me.

It seems radio stations, with their constantly increasing numbers in the market place – and the proliferation of various streaming sources of music – can’t deliver a buyer’s audience anymore.

Why do we see so much electronic reporting on the “death of print” but nothing on the demise of broadcast?

Lack of quality control in print
Finally, one of my sales team members brought me an ad last week that she found in a neighboring newspaper. “What’s wrong with this ad?”, she asked me. The answer is obvious: There is no contact information! No name of the business, no address, no telephone number, no email address – not even an indication of the town where the business is located. I don’t suspect they advertiser will see much response from his investment.

When newspapers and shoppers print poorly designed or incomplete ads the perception of the reader is “newspapers can’t do anything right!”

We’re going to have to stand tall and shake off the idea our printed editions are a thing of the past. If we believe in ourselves, tell our story – individually and as an industry – and work hard the best is yet to come.

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