Video Killed The Radio Star…But Will It Save Print Media?

CBS Logo

CBS has its eye on rejuvenating print media.

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.

Pile of papers

How many of these do you still collect?

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.

The syngery between print and online media continues.

The synergy between print and online media continues to evolve. Maybe newspapers could look like actual newspapers online?

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.

6 Responses

  1. Stephen

    Right as I was reading this, Twitter alerted me to the Cap Times article:

    “Progressive Magazine issues appeal for contributions to stay afloat”

    Basically, they need to raise 90k by the end of the month. Yes, big media is hurting, but this hundred year old stalwart of progressive values – sometimes the only journalistic outfit to challenge the powers that be – and hundreds of smaller magazines are being choked off. When this happens the discussion becomes slightly less diverse, less rich. Certain viewpoints dominate the conversation (we’re seeing this play out in the healthcare reform debate).

    I’m not sure I share your enthusiasm about the CBS magazine ads; yes, they will get buzz because of the innovation, but a “magazine you can read and watch” is still content that the publisher is in control of; it’s one-way. The web gives the user control (or is it just the illusion of control?).

    • bryanreesman

      Stephen: I think “the illusion of control” is more accurate. People can certainly voice their opinions through comments online, but Internet publishers are still controlling the content more or less. It does depend on the site. I noticed that one reader on The Progressive’s site stated that it’s not that exciting to look at, and I would agree. This is a problem even major publications have. You can’t just toss your stories up online with few visuals and bland layouts — you need to make them as visually dynamic as the magazine that spawned them. That always drives me nuts when I see that, and it happens often. As far as The Progressive, how much exclusive online content do they have? Do they expand their print stories online? Do you they think would work as an online only publication?

      After I posted this story I read a feature in TIME (,9171,1914976,00.html) about Ann, the website and home to the former Ann Arbor News, a 175 year-old daily paper from Michigan (guess which town) that has been reborn online. They still publish a print version on Thursdays and Sundays (interestingly enough, called Ann to satisfy the fans of the print edition while growing their business through the Web. We’ll see how it turns out over the course of the next few months.

      These are trying times, and everyone needs to figure out a business model that works for them. Hopefully The Progressive can figure that out.

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