By Sarah Vizard, Editor, Raconteur
The man often touted as the pioneer of the digital age of newspaper publishing is one Roger Fidler. Back in 1993 he revealed, in an interview in the American Journalism Review, how the newspaper industry could make the move to digital.
He outlined plans he was working on at US media company Knight Ridder for a hand-held, flat panel that would display an electronic image that looked much like a newspaper and would be continually updated and offer full-motion and full-colour. By 2010, he predicted, the electronic newspaper would be fully competitive with the print media.
Fidler was not far off in his prediction. Apple launched the iPad in April 2010. Yet despite predicting the downfall of print newspapers and the shift to digital, Fidler believes he might have been wrong. Speaking to the Columbia Journalism Review in 2016, he said: “I have been wondering whether we have completely underestimated the viability and usefulness of the print product.”
That’s an unpopular opinion among many. A quick Google search will throw up hundreds of thought pieces about the death of print going back to 1998.
By the middle of the next decade, the reach of and revenues generated by print newspapers were on the decline. Spending on newspapers in the UK fell from £5.2bn in 2005 to £3.9bn in 2020, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. At the same time circulation dropped. The latest figures from ABC show that sales of the UK’s biggest daily paper, The Daily Mail, fell below 900,000 a day for the first time in more than 100 years in February, a continuation of recent trends exacerbated by the Covid pandemic.
Yet print is still here. In the UK, the only national newspaper to cut its print product is The Independent. Everyone else, from The Sun to The Guardian to The Financial Times continues to print a daily newspaper despite the apparent pointlessness of the endeavour and the rise of online-only rivals.
What, Then, is Going On?
As it turns out, building a profitable media business that runs only online is difficult. The digital news upstarts of the 2010s — the likes of BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, Vice — have found it incredibly challenging to build scaled, profitable businesses. Brian Morrissey, who founded Digiday and now runs The Rebooting, calls the past decade of digital publishing “an unmitigated disaster” in a post looking at the future of media innovation.
Yet the more traditional media brands are finding ways to run profitable media businesses that combine the advantages of digital — immediacy, reach, accessibility — with the benefits of print. Many had forgotten those print benefits. They are manifold but they tend to come down to one thing: trust.
The latest data from Ofcom shows that print newspapers are highly regarded by the public. Its annual survey of news consumption shows 69% describe them as ‘important to me personally’, 67% as ‘high quality’, 66% as ‘accurate’ and 67% ‘as trustworthy’.
This translates for advertisers too. A study by Newsworks shows positive and long-term brand effects for businesses when they invest in news brands. An analysis of 182 ad campaigns by effectiveness expert Peter Field shows that the impact on trust in brands that advertise on a single news brand platform increased from 13% in 2014 to 30% in 2020. When it appears across two news brand platforms (print and digital) the impact is 56% — 47 percentage points higher.
Field says: “The evidence is clear; news brands deliver incredibly strong business effects for brands. They can do this because of their strong impacts on brand trust and quality perceptions – two brand effects that are now most strongly linked to profit growth.”
Knowing, then, that print is well thought of by consumers and drives results for advertisers reframes the discussion around print media. It is no longer about the managed decline of print but how to use the strengths of print to grab the attention of readers, engage advertisers and build a profitable and growing media business.
That is what we are doing at Raconteur. We publish B2B print reports in The Times and The Sunday Times alongside our digital operations on Raconteur.net. Print remains hugely important and profitable for our business. Despite the trends in the market, we have continued to invest in our editorial team, the content and our design. We are producing more print reports, on more pages, on more topics. And our revenues and profitability are rising.
Last year we posted our highest ever print revenue and this year has started with a bang. Advertisers love the prestige of being in print and the effectiveness of the engagement it offers to build brand and product awareness. Readers appreciate the opportunity to dive into content all-too-often not covered in the national press but which affects all businesses.
But we also realise that while print is not dying there are opportunities elsewhere. And so we are investing in digital as well. Unlike many publishers, we can do this from a position of strength, reinvesting our print revenues into digital and using it as a springboard to diversify revenues, invest online and grow our business.
We are launching new formats for editorial, such as data features and interactive articles and commercial content, such as insight reports. We have a new data team helping us understand our audience and learn how to better engage with them through newsletters, social media and the website. Our designers are spending more time with our content teams to help make the website a more interesting and engaging place to spend time.
We believe Fidler was right on both counts. Digital has changed the publishing industry but there is still an important place for print. Long live print!
About the Author
Sarah Vizard is the editor of Raconteur, the B2B publishing company within the Raconteur Group. She joined the business in late 2020, having spent seven years at marketing industry title Marketing Week, latterly as managing editor. She is responsible for all editorial content produced by Raconteur, including its print output, which is distributed with The Times and The Sunday Times and online content published on Raconteur.net.
A business journalist for almost 15 years, Sarah leads a growing editorial team focused on reaching its audience of business leaders by telling interesting stories through new digital formats. She is passionate about hearing from new voices that can offer a different perspective on the corporate world.