Print’s (Not So) Novel Revenue Stream

It’s no secret that legacy print media, including daily newspapers and magazines with varying publication frequency, have struggled economically in recent years.

The number of advertising pages has dipped precipitously and subscriptions (and renewals) have dropped dramatically. Weekly community newspapers currently are among the few legacy print media still making money.

Newsweek, for instance, after 80 years terminated its print edition in 2012, though it was revived in 2014.

A 30-plus year subscriber, I switched to Time when the printed Newsweek was no longer available. A short while ago, an organization named Secure Publisher Mail Center wrote to offer 100 issues of Newsweek for a modest $309.99.

Uh. No. Thanks. I’ll keep Time at $20 for 52 issues.

Recently, Time (June 13, 2016) featured a novel way to generate revenue for the legacy print medium: sponsored columns.

At the top of Ian Bremmer’s column (“The Risk Report”) appeared: presented by [corporate logo] DHL.” And at its conclusion was the notation: “Bremmer’s column is sponsored this week by DHL, which is not involved in the selection of topics or any other aspect of the editorial process.

On the facing page was a full-page advertisement for DHL.

If this were broadcasting, no one would be surprised. We’ve long been accustomed to commercial advertising sprinkled throughout radio and TV programming. Even Public Broadcasting now includes paid advertising, albeit more tame and less in-your-face than the ads on commercial broadcasting.

Because media in capitalist economies are, largely, advertising supported, most also recognize that programming or news reports exist as a way to deliver audiences to advertisers.

The show or the story, in other words, is just the bait.

But Time’s sponsored column is a clear departure from previous conventions by print media and, especially, print media reporting news.

In the book publishing industry, that likewise suffers similar economic woes as newspapers and magazines, an idea that has yet to catch on is selling a book’s contents chapter by chapter, rather than as a single, bundled and complete unit.

Book publishers, apparently, now think of themselves as Veg-O-Matic style operations. Slicing and dicing content, like a la carte cable subscription, affords audiences (readers) more choice and the opportunity to pay only for those elements they want.

One wonders how readers know what they want before they’ve read it? And here we’re reminded of Columbia Pictures infamous mogul, Harry Cohn who quipped: “The public always knows what it wants. Right after they’ve seen it.”

Maybe more significantly, at least for book authors, constructing long form texts that can be purchased part-by-part is a much different enterprise than envisioning a manuscript as a whole comprised of chapters.

Will the sponsored column in magazines prove the financial savior for print media? It’s too early to say.

But chances are that the “votes” that will count are not those of readers and are, instead, those of the advertisers.

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