USA Today columnist Michael Wolff published a provocative piece on the weekend in which he opined that, in addition to print news being dead, so too was digital news.
Riffing off a similar article in the Financial Times, Wolff points out that the per-view price of digital advertising continues to drop.
Combined with the failure of paywalls and the rise of ad blockers, it’s looking increasingly clear that print publications merely converting their operations to digital may not be the answer. They just won’t be able to earn enough revenue to keep the lights on.
It’s a logical argument, even if Wolff doesn’t consider that digital-only news organizations tend to have lower costs than their print-based cousins. Still, with the trend lines being what they are, he may be right.
What’s less clear is what news organizations can do about it. As Wolff points out, it’s one thing to know what doesn’t work and quite another to find something that does. But having a body of failures to learn from is at least a start.
The issue of ad blockers may turn out to be key. While various forms of software that allow users to block online advertisements have been around for a while, it only really became an issue last year after Apple started allowing such apps on its iOS platform.
Since then, ad blockers have grown in popularity, much to the chagrin of news organizations and advertisers.
Ad-blocking is likely to turn out to be a game of cat and mouse, with advertisers and publishers coming up with circumventions. Wired magazine, for example, has already implemented an ad-free website, which costs $1 a week to access. Inevitably, blockers and readers will figure out ways to circumvent the circumventions.
Much of the attention around the issue has focused on news organizations — but what about advertisers? With the value of online ads falling and audiences increasingly finding ways to avoid them altogether, is there a future for brands in digital advertising?
Digital ads have several obvious advantages over their print cousins, with the ability to target viewers based on their interests being the big one. But, as Wolff points out, they also have a big disadvantage — they can be obviated entirely. That can’t be done with print ads.
The question thus needs to be asked: could print ads, being unskippable, unblockable and unmissable, some day see a renaissance? Might brands decide to walk it back to a medium where their advertisements are more likely to be seen, and therefore where they have more value?
The return-to-analog looks to be happening with books. For whatever reasons, U.S. book stores last week announced their first sales increase since 2007, which goes along with the increase in print book sales in 2015.
It also looks to be happening with retail stores, with a growing number of online-only operations opening bricks-and-mortar outlets. That includes Amazon, which is reportedly looking to make a giant splash into the real world with up to 400 stores.
The prevailing wisdom for much of the internet age has been that digital, owing to its many superiorities over analog, will replace it wherever the two meet. But there are an increasing number of signs pointing to the idea that this isn’t always the case.
Might advertisers and therefore news organizations reverse course from that fallacy as well?
This story originally appeared in Canadian Business