It’s no secret that print media is in a state of crisis — ad revenues are down, page counts are decreasing (in some cases dwindling) and editorial budgets have been slashed. Numerous, long-running publications have folded, with more to come. Everyone from major weeklies like Time and Newsweek to trade publications like Variety are feeling the heat. Newspapers across the country are scrambling to cope with competition from the Internet (i.e. free news) while also using it to expand their brands. Where is this going? Naysayers will tell you that print media is going the way of the dodo.
In an effort to boost the diminishing old media marketplace, CBS is placing a video ad within the Sept. 18th issue of Entertainment Weekly. No, these aren’t DVDs. They’re small (2.7mm thick with 320 x 240 resolution), chip-driven video players that can store up to 40 minutes of content. According to the above linked story from Broadcasting & Cable, the playable video chip ad will promote their returning prime time shows How I Met Your Mother, Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory and Accidentally on Purpose; a Pepsi Max spot; and new series NCIS: L.A., The Good Wife and Three Rivers. It’s an interesting and clever move that could help younger readers reevaluate the concept of print media, and it has a hip, technological edge. After all, the concept of a magazine you can read and watch seems fun. It remains to seen if this idea will be considered innovative or a passing fad. It’s akin to the Harry Potter newspapers with the moving images, which are both cool and weird.
I embraced the Internet early in my career, but I still love newspapers and color magazines. Having grown up in the Eighties, I’m from a generation that still buys magazines, CDs and DVDs. Many of us enjoy the tactile and visual experience of thumbing through a magazine and perusing a special edition package of an album or movie. Viewing everything online is exhausting (and dull), especially for those of us who make our livings sitting in front of a PC or Mac for several hours a day. But younger consumers, and admittedly more and more older ones, are far more technologically oriented. They absorb music, movies and news through an iPods, iPhones, Blackberrys and laptops. And they are used to getting everything for free.
With such considerations in mind, is the Video-in-Print move by CBS a bold step towards transforming an analog format (so to speak) into a hybrid digital one? And will it be able to lure in younger readers and entice back older defectors by giving them something a little more exciting than, heaven forbid, a publication full of static images? That obviously remains to be seen. DVD inserts didn’t exactly set the print world on fire when they were tested a few years back. (Sorry, that’s a cheeky metaphor, but I couldn’t resist.) Then again, said inserts still needed to be played outside of a magazine, not within it.
Maybe I’m sounding naive or overly idealistic, but this newer video chip concept does give me hope that print media will be able to adapt to the times and perhaps convince many consumers to keep plunking down their hard-earned money for something they can hold onto. I have never been under the impression that magazines or newspapers were going to disappear forever. People assumed the same thing about vinyl records, but now national chains like Best Buy and Hot Topic are carrying them again. But like that niche product, print media will ultimately occupy a smaller portion of the marketplace than the online media that is overtaking it.
I firmly believe that in order for newspapers and magazines to survive and make the transition into the 21st century they must find creative and clever ways to marry themselves with online media. They have no choice. Blogs have been an important step. Ditto for video clips. Expanding print stories online and making them more interactive is another smart idea. At the same time, in order to survive on the newsstands, print publications will have to offer something special, including dazzling, exclusive photo shoots, in-depth, well-researched stories that you won’t find in shorter online formats and eye-popping layouts that lure you to buy the issue. Of course, all of those things cost money, something that no one has or wants to spend right now. Vanity Fair can afford it, but what about smaller or medium-sized publications? It’s a true conundrum for the print industry. For the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the solution was simply to go online exclusively.
At the end of the day it’s all about the green. With websites like Craigslist having killed off the classified ad business for print media, and with printing costs soaring and ad sales shrinking, thus leading to reduced page counts and higher retail prices, the challenge is finding new revenue streams. Newspapers have been giving away online content for free for years. The New York Times used to charge for access to their online archives and reportedly made $10 million per year doing this, but then they ceased charging people, betting that supporting the site through advertising would work better. I say it’s time for all newspapers to start charging a nominal fee for monthly or annual subscriptions and archival access. People pay for home delivery anyway, so why should they get news for free just because it’s online? I’d be willing to pay for a subscription fee. I do that with magazines anyway.
As a professional journalist, I want to champion the monetary value of print and online media and the concept that a good product is worth paying for. As a consumer in economically tumultuous times, I see why the concept of free media is so appealing. And as a blogger, I’m trying to conjure ways to monetize content that I am giving away for free by attracting advertisers. In the end, publishers and editors are going to need to work harder to keep their audience attracted to their product by giving a bit more than they used to, and consumers are going to have to concede that they cannot get everything for free, unless they want something of questionable quality.
The ViP concept is a small ray of hope slicing through the dreary financial clouds darkening the print media landscape. It’s a modest step towards revitalizing interest in a medium that desperately needs to see a silver lining to their current predicament. I hope it leads to something greater.