Search Marketing or the return of print in the US?

August 27, 2013 - Digital State Marketing

As with many things, the US takes point in the development of the search marketing sphere.  This is unsurprising when you consider that the top three search engines are all based primarily in America. However, other trends developed in the US offer interesting insights into forthcoming trends in the rest of the world. To this end as a forward thing search marketing company, this article will investigate the trend of returning to print media forms within the US.

2013 will go down as one of the most influential and dramatic years in US print history with a number of high profile acquisitions for example the sale of the Washington Post to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos for $250 million back to their local community. The reasoning behind such purchases has been widely debated since these high profile sales (with more in the pipeline including the LA Times) have injected life back into the print game, which has been suffering from failing to embrace the digital age early on.

The sale of the Washington Post to Bezos is surprising, not just due to the perception held by many if the over valuation but its audacity in an industry where respected publications such as Newsweek continue to pull physical circulation.

The sale of these newspaper are said to emulate the growing trend of newspaper conglomerates such as the New York Times Company in shedding their now unsuccessful titles by selling them to rich local business men. The New York Times recently declared that ‘Newspapers Are Billionaires’ Latest Trophies’ arguing that such transactions don’t add up: Ken Doctor an Outsell analyst commented ‘these deals don’t make financial sense’ as newspapers are sold to the minority of billionaires who have an appetite for social, civic and financial roles and want to give this trend a go.The Joy of Tech - Bezos

Many analysts believe that the Amazon founder views the acquisition as a political tool ‘necessary to pursue a political agenda’ in Washington hoping the company will gain political clout amongst a flurry of poor tax publicity. Others believe Bezos has foreseen beneficial synergies for Amazon such as a new and powerful marketing platform, a new source of customer tracking information in order to target products to specific customers and to provide credibility to its publishing arm – Amazon Publishing. The company now also owns a modern means of digital distribution as well as physical distribution. Bezos could theoretically enclose a copy of the iconic paper with every physical order or set the Washington Post as the default news site for its Kindle range; the Amazon empire could easily increase distribution levels dramatically.

Whatever the motivation for these high profile sales, it generates interest in a marketing medium thought doomed by the mainstream. People have become hungrier for easily assessable breaking news and are increasingly impatient for it since the advent of social media platforms such as Twitter and in doing so have led to the decline of print advertising. Bloomberg recently described print advertising as having a ‘grim’ economic future.

Publications have been desperately trying to take advantage of the digital age for some time and increasingly they are developing innovative, interactive and accessible digital alternatives to print media rendering their platforms for mobile devices and tablet computers. The assembly of paywalls is becoming standard practice both in the UK and US as the Sun looks next in line to monetise its online offering after the success of The Times and The New York Post in pursuing a ‘anti-social media’ strategy.  The sale of The Washington Post could herald the start of a print media revolution, from paper to tablets as money is invested in targeting a large online audience.

This opens up a renaissance in the newspaper industry offering marketers new opportunities to use old advertising methods to attract both digitally informed customers and their traditional counterparts. Print media is seen as offering many tangible benefits over digital marketing and search marketing. There is a sense of greater legitimacy with print media advertisements which helps to solidify brand identity, are seen as more engaging and with a growing number of businesses relying solely on digital marketing tactics publications are less crowded ‘turning the decline in print media into a marketing advantage’[v].

Does all of this signal the return of Print? Not exactly, it signals the return of print media, but not as we traditionally think of it. Whilst circulation may increase with increased investment, realistically these titles are going to have to innovate and become digitally orientated to attract new advertising to drive profits and subsequently high quality content.  In essence, while physical printed works may not survive, the institution of “new papers” as a source of trusted information will remain. It’s clear that Bezos believes that journalism is still essential to driving newspaper distribution however, it’s the manner that it is done that has to change; Bezos told the German newspaper Berliner Zeitung in a November interview:

“We have found out that people are willing to pay for their newspaper subscriptions on their tablets,” he said. “Tablets will further influence our everyday life. Soon every household will have more than one tablet. This will be normal. And these trends will strengthen newspapers.”

He later went on to comment that he didn’t see a future for physical print media over the next 20 years. Thus his purchase of the Washington Post can be seen as the purchase of a brand rather than just the physical company, which could go some way to explaining the overvaluation.

Online versions of newspapers may offer companies a chance to advertise to the informed consumer in a targeted manner complementing their digital marketing efforts such as SEO and PPC. This is especially important when customers aren’t searching for your product specifically. Marketers will have a new method of attracting impulse purchasers and old school adverts will be refreshed for the digital age utilising video, social media and will increasingly be targeted towards the reader on their touch screen device. This has been seen by many as a major disadvantage of print media for some time. Therefore whilst print may be in decline, newspapers and newspaper advertising definitely isn’t. Marketers need to monitor changes in the industry to analyse the opportunities these sales will pose for the future of digital print.