Print vs online- same debate, new evidence, greater insights, better results


Stop us if you’ve heard this one before, about a million times. People are turning their back on print, and instead looking to digital publications for their news, entertainment, and leisure reading. Don’t worry, we’re falling asleep too.
Or at least we were until a new study by Munich and City University academic Neil Thurman began doing the rounds in our industry bibles, pointing to a huge difference between how newspapers and magazines are consumed when compared with their online counterparts. Get ready for raised eyebrows, then.
In the UK, overall 88.5% of total reading time is estimated to be spent perusing printed pages, leaving just 11.5% for the digital world. Perhaps logically, this follows a News Media Association report showing that national titles made 88% of revenue from physical publication, and just 12% from their websites.
Thurman’s research doesn’t end there, either. The average media consumer will dedicate 40 minutes per day to their print title, which is far more than the 30 seconds digital readers will give to apps and domains run by the same media brands. Of all major newspapers in England and Wales, only The Guardian and Mail Online claim more than a 5% share of their combined print and digital readership from the internet, with The Guardian offering the best online results- 25% of total reading time.
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Here are the numbers broken down, title by title, in terms of how many minutes per day readers spend consuming print vs online

Print vs online
Source – Press Gazette

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But it’s not all good news for print

Whilst this paints a rosy picture of physical pages published on actual presses, rather than WordPress, it’s not quite as simple as all that. According to the ABC statistics for March 2017- the most recent month for which circulation figures are available- despite a small lift in sales for the Daily Telegraph and Financial Times (0.7 and 3.1% respectively), only The Times avoided a fall in terms of year-on-year numbers, with this trend for decline now spanning well over a decade.
In short, then, readership continues to drop in print, meanwhile online continues to grow, albeit actual revenue from online advertising is shrinking. What this means is that brands must consider the potential visibility of a campaign before deciding which format to focus on- case studies and expert comment, for example, would be far more effective in print, because this type of coverage requires whole article consumption to be seen. Lighter, more image and headline-friendly hits, in comparison, would be more effective in the digital world.

Magazines buck the trend

OK, so this heading is slightly misleading- according to the most recent numbers magazines have also fallen in sales by an average of 6%. But there are a few rays of sunshine on the print horizon.
In 2016, The Economist reported an increase of 2.1% year-on-year to June, with The Spectator growing its newsstand sales by 10% in the same period. The Week, New Statesman, and Prospect also saw significant gains, although none compare to Private Eye in terms of success stories, which sold more of its Christmas 2016 issue than any other in its entire 56-year-history.
Sadly, the latter is pretty useless for PRs and brands given the publication is satirical, but what this shows is quality print media aimed at niche demographics are still viable products. Those looking for more evidence should consider titles like Garden Answers, Times Literary Supplement, Top of the Pops, Sunday Times Travel, Country Living, and National Geographic Traveller, which all grew by between 10 and 41%, with other notable mentions being The Big Issue titles (including North, Cymru, South West, and Scotland), which built readership by an average of 8%.
Click here for a full breakdown of the ABC’s magazine facts and figures.
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