Even within the newspaper industry, there is talk that print advertising revenue remains in free fall and that print editions in many markets may disappear sometime in the next decade.
The industry's trade association, the News Media Alliance, begs to disagree. A new marketing book, "News Media Panorama," released today, tries to reframe the case for print and digital advertising in its member publications.
Historically, the newspaper ad buy was sold as having unequaled reach within communities. That is still on a list of benefits, but falls eighth among eight. Instead, the top two selling points are placing advertising alongside "trusted local journalism" and in a "brand-safe environment."
The book cites positive credibility studies from Gallup, Pew Research and Kantar Media, particularly findings documenting a big gap in trust in favor of print compared to social media.
As for the brand-safe environment, Rebecca Frank, the Alliance's vice president for research and insights, said in a phone interview, "We are still working through exactly how we define it." Clearly, though, the implication is that an advertising placement on social media could end up adjacent to raunchy material, hate speech or made-up news stories.
Putting trust in journalism as the top feature, Frank said, makes the point that readers "trust news media for their information about the world and for purchase decisions, too."
In her introduction to the 78-page market book, Frank puts it this way:
"When looking at the relationship between the news media industry and advertising, one often thinks of the monetary side of the partnership. But there’s more to it than that. The most valuable asset to an advertiser is a respected and reliable partner that their audience trusts. With news media, you get that respected partner."
The Alliance has opened its membership to digital-only sites, but newspapers still dominate. The Panorama book makes the point that newspapers now offer digital, video and audio options. That gives the news organizations growing ability to customize "creative and innovative advertising and marketing solutions."
And the news audience tends to be affluent and well-educated. Households of print readers out-earn the national average by $5,900 a year, according to Nielsen-Scarborough Research. And online news media readers enjoy an even larger advantage: $19,000 a year ($73,600 vs. $54,700).
Other sections of the book make more familiar points — that consumers pay particular attention to circulars and coupons in news media as they shop and that the publications, in one format or another, reach 136 million U.S. adult consumers in the course of a week.
The Alliance does not represent broadcasters (who have trade association of their own), and there are no comparisons in the book to the effectiveness of broadcast ads.
"We don't want to say (advertisers) need to choose one or the other," Frank said. "We do make the point that news media catch them (readers) at an important moment when they are consuming information."
My own take is that a big local advertiser — a car dealership, for instance — these days is typically going heavy into targeted digital ads and broadcast, with a supplement of some direct mail and print.
Frank joined the Aliance staff in November 2017, after working in public relations and at a business news aggregation site. Talking to publishers and advertisers and pulling together relevant research has been her main emphasis in the year since, she told me.
The American Press Institute is overseen by the alliance's foundation. It has taken the lead in audience and content research on such topics as matching topics to the particular areas of interest in a given community and refining an approach to adding paid digital subscribers.
So that cedes research on advertising and other area of revenue growth to Frank's operation.
Frank said that her hope is that this report will be a template for future ones — adding some statistics as they become available, for instance, on the brand safety issue.
Near the end of the book, the Alliance presents a pitch for two unorthodox advertising categories: voting and charitable giving. That is a bet on the future, Frank said, since millennials and the Parkland generation seem particularly attracted to issues and a reform agenda.
I posed the inevitable question, "Is print dead?" Frank replied, "The industry is changing and consumer behavior is changing. But while it is changing, it hasn't completely changed yet. So we want advertisers to consider all available channels."