What’s next for 2017: print

Experts predict what the Canadian industry can expect to see from magazines and newspapers in 2017.

While experts see opportunities for the Canadian print industry in 2017, it is certainly leaving 2016 with more battle scars than it had when the year started.

Both magazines and newspapers experienced another 12 months of cuts, drops in ad revenue and consolidation. National newspapers slashed jobs, with some, like Postmedia and a group of Quebec publishers asking for federal aid of varying degrees.

“I’m here today to tell you that everything you read about the doom and gloom of the newspaper business doesn’t provide the whole picture. In fact it’s quite understated,” was how Paul Godfrey, president and CEO of Postmedia opened his address to the standing committee on Canadian Heritage in May. Since then, Postmedia announced further cuts, including a 20% reduction in salary expenses through initiatives like a company-wide buyout program.

(Although it’s most often used as the poster boy for the challenged Canadian newspaper industry, Postmedia was by no means alone in cutbacks this year. The Globe and Mail also announced a buyout program in the fall and Torstar cut jobs over the summer. The latter also saw the departure of many top executives this year, including former publisher and president of the Star Media Group John Cruickshank, president and CEO David Holland and Kirk McDonald, CRO, leaving in September.)

Those looking for comfort in the platform won’t find it in 2017 ad spend forecasts. Drops are predicted across reports. IPG Mediabrands, as just one example, pointed to a decease in ad spend of 9.1% on the platform for 2017.

One of the top magazine stories of the year came this fall when Rogers Media announced it was overhauling its print division, ending the print versions of titles including Flare, Sportsnet, MoneySense and Canadian Business, selling its B2B and French titles, and decreasing the number of issues it would be printing for Maclean’s, Chatelaine and Today’s Parent.

While he was not surprised that Rogers Media ceased printing some of its titles, David Crammond, SVP, managing director, trading and operations at MEC, said he was confused that “tentpole” titles like Flare were taken out of print.

Although Rogers is shifting its focus online, Crammond said clients won’t be following with dollar-for-dollar shifts from print. But he added that it’s too soon to tell what the exact impact of the Rogers Media changes will be on client plans. In addition, due to the fragmented nature of the digital market, Susan Robb, activation supervisor at Gaggi Media, said if funds that had been going to print titles are transferred online they will likely be spread across multiple suppliers and not remain strictly with Rogers.

Christine Wilson, SVP and managing director, Starcom MediaVest Group, said while she doesn’t believe Rogers’ print cuts were premature given the ongoing declines in ad spend and readership numbers, she also doesn’t think the company will see any significant revenue gains as a result of the changes in the short term.

Despite ongoing cuts across newspapers and magazines, media industry experts agree there are still opportunities. Wilson said magazine and newspaper publishers have a chance to bank on their trust and history to gain share with the rise in fake and unaccredited news online.

“Newspapers and magazines should rage against the tide; however, they continue to discard the very resources that could fight against the onslaught of fake and or consumer generated content,” said Wilson. “Publishers need to reclaim their differentiation with things like comprehensive, specialized and localized content.

“However, rebuilding content equity alone won’t solve their issues. They must change their commercial models as well to more efficiently monetize offerings,” she said.

To that end, Wilson predicts that publishers will continue to increase the amount of content marketing they produce.

“There is a shift afoot, to content models that embed brand messaging, customized to individual content platforms,” she said. “The rise of content and creative development arms such as Postmedia’s Content Works or Roger’s Elevate should enable publishers to leverage their home field advantage and commercialize their expertise for advertisers. Storytelling has proven to resonate with audiences and drives important ad metrics such as brand awareness, recall, sentiment and engagement. Publishers actively cultivating content marketing and further relaxing church and state restrictions may help themselves avert progressive ad-blocking issues, which pose a significant threat to ad revenues.”

Robb predicted that Canadian newspaper titles will form better strategies to discourage ad blockers online in the coming months.

“There is a great need to educate the general public in an impactful way about the positive connection between advertising and great content,” she said.

To gain share online, there also needs to be a major uptick in how interactive Canadian magazine and newspaper publishers are, said Wilson. She said Texture is a start, but believes that it falls short because it focuses on individual titles rather than the power of the platform.

“Advertisers aren’t able to effectively utilize the platform to imaginatively communicate brand messages and product offers with more scale than any of the individual brands within could provide,” he said. “Publishers need to embrace the creation of more video stories and leverage tech like augmented reality and virtual reality to bring stories to life in a way the static print environment simply cannot do.”

MiC has been catching up with experts across the media and advertising world to deliver 2017 predictions on TV, digital, print and OOH throughout the week.

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