Reducing Print Publication Frequency Can Be Costly
By Craig Lauer | May 26, 2020
While we’ve seen the immediate impact of social distancing on the event side of our business, we have not seen a comparable decrease in advertising sales. At this point, year-to-date sales are behind somewhere between 15%–20% from last year, but faring better than many had predicted.
Part of the reason for the better-than-expected outcomes is that a number of our advertisers recognize the need to maintain their market and brand presence to be best positioned for recovery, and we have had largely positive responses in our dialog with advertisers.
Going Digital-Only Could Be Counterproductive
In the past several months, we’ve had discussions with some clients about the possibility of taking their publications into a digital-only environment (digital communications being one of YGS’ areas of expertise). A very small number did elect to go all digital, willing to accept a reduction in ad revenue. Others recognized the benefit of a compromise, such as reduced frequency supplemented with digital editions or publication microsites, which allow for timely, content-rich additions to the print editions.
But in all cases—and we want to stress this point—when print publication frequency was temporarily reduced or cut completely, ad revenue never reached the same level as when the print editions were at full frequency and distribution.
Some Items to Consider Before Reducing Print
1. Are you willing to accept that ad sales will go down by going all digital? Rates for digital advertising are generally 20%–40% that of print. We have one client, in fact, that has ended up spending more for their digital-only publication because of the reduction in ad sales coupled with the expense to produce the publication.
2. Have you done a realistic assessment of production costs versus revenue? This should include the resource time to write, design, manage, print, and mail. We find that some of our clients don’t include the resource expense, just the print and postage savings. Going digital often means as much (if not more) time spent on the writing and design. So, while the print costs go down, other costs remain constant or even increase.
3. Are you are aware of the risk of losing members? With most of our association clients, their print publication is considered one of their top three member benefits, if not number one. Perceived value of a digital-only version is definitely lower in the minds of members.
4. Is your readership a true consumer of digital content? Digital can be an excellent way for consuming some types of content, but have you done a thorough reader analysis to determine if this is true of your audience and the type of content they are expecting you to provide?
5. Does your content lend itself to being read in digital environments? In other words, is it or can it be short, succinct, and compelling enough to be read on a tablet or smartphone? Do you have the resources to adapt and optimize your content for reading on portable devices?
Now May Not Be the Time for Dramatic Changes
If ad revenue is temporarily down for your print publication, one approach, certainly, is for you to consider decreased frequency for a defined and limited time. We have a few clients who have deployed this tactic, understanding that these are unprecedented circumstances.
We have worked with these clients to consider existing or expanded digital properties for distribution of critical content between issues. This approach can allow you to address costs—recognizing the potential of lost ad revenue—yet not commit to a scenario that could result in unfavorable longer-term implications once we recover.
Want to Learn More?
There are numerous options for sustaining revenue during this crisis. If you have questions or would like to discuss the possibilities, I welcome the chance to chat.
Jack Davidson, YGS President