Digital difficulties mean print still dominates consumer publishing revenues

The consumer publishing sector is expected to see continued strong growth of its digital income over the course of the next five years. However, money from print will continue to form the bulk of revenues, according to research published this month.

Ovum’s Digital Consumer Publishing Forecast said that by 2020 just 24 per cent of overall revenue in the consumer publishing sector will come from digital – currently it’s at 14 per cent – with the remainder generated through print titles.

Is this then a sign that everything will remain rosy for print for several years to come? Personally, I’d caution against that.

The Ovum survey is a very broad measure. It takes into account magazine, newspaper, and book industries across 50 very different markets, which may skew things somewhat, with some markets being well ahead of others in terms of digital take-up.

What it highlights, I think, is not so much digital adoption, but the inherent difficulties publishers are having in making money from digital.

There’s a problem with the pace of innovation in digital itself – with one of the biggest challenges being the rapid shift in users from desktop to mobile. A digital leader from one of the newspaper groups recently told me that desktops would die before print ever did because of this shift.

With the exception of a handful of specialist providers, such as Quartz, very few publishers are anywhere near cracking how to make money out of mobile yet.

This is particularly true in the news business where the likes of Facebook, Google, and a range of news apps providers look more likely to take control of the mobile ecosystem than the traditional media businesses.

If the rapid development of mobile technology wasn’t enough of a problem, there also remain significant challenges in the desktop world.

Standard run-of-site advertising has the advantage of being more measurable than print, but it’s also increasingly commoditized, which is a trend that’s likely to accelerate as programmatic trading drives down prices. The digital commercial director of another publisher recently told me that some media agencies he deals with aim to have 100 per cent programmatic buying by the end of this year.

I’ve highlighted just two main challenges, but even these simple examples throw up a raft of interesting questions for hiring managers.

When they’re selling space to advertisers, what should they sell?

Well, unusual times call for innovative solutions. Across the industry, senior leaders have been telling me that they are increasingly focussing on selling bespoke, sophisticated packages to clients, mixing print presence with native advertising, online advertorial or other brand tie-ups.

As the Ovum survey demonstrates, the consumer sector would be hasty to turn its back on print too soon. Yet, it’s also more important than ever to have digital decision-makers who can provide clear, original solutions as we continue the long, slow transition to a world that will eventually become dominated by digital – both as way to engage with content, but also to make money from it.