Sunday, February 22, 2009

Of the Thinness of Print

Recently a family member accepted a subscription to the New Yorker. The first issue that came seemed hardly a magazine in thickness--more like a brochure. Missing were the pages and pages of ads that used to fatten the most successful (and some of the not-so-successful) print magazines (remember Wired?--it was like a phone book in the 90's).

When you buy the NY Times these days, it feels miniaturized and sadly less relevant than the heavy, inky, no-color Newspaper of Record from a decade ago. The Times has of course become smaller and smaller in width (so has Rolling Stone succumbed) but lately it seems they too have been abandoned by their advertisers, and the paper is not just small these days, but thin. Can we say scrawny?

It isn't just the economy.

The news--if it is news--about non-broadcast advertising is that it's moving heavily, rapidly on-line. Partly this is because it's awfully cheap to run ads on line and partly because it is very possible to track the success--not the focus-group success, but the actual success--of an ad. An advertiser can know if its on-line ad is driving desired actions--use the coupon, buy the shoes, book the ticket, download the pdf--in a way that it can never hope to do with its universe of print.

The other part is, of course, about the economy.

As companies look for efficiencies (and knowing they cannot simply disappear from the brand marketplace), they don't think "two-page spread" anymore. They think--perhaps--"interactive module" or "social media launch for hope-to-become-viral video". If they weren't looking for ways to find any port in an economic Nor'easter, these advertisers would probably put money behind both print and on-line. But mostly, they're not putting money into print like they used to.

The big names will survive in print for a while, but I think the end of the print versions of most newspapers and many magazines may be a little bit more than a dot on the publishing horizon. The future will have thousands of interesting "print" venues--blogs, twitterings, facebook pages, new on-line information cocktails as yet undreamed--and it will include great news sites from the great Eastern Seaboard newspapers that have not decimated their reporting staffs--but if you think about Newseek (for instance) turning itself into something other than a newsweekly, you can't help but figure that the next few years will include the end of inky publishing as we have come to know it.