Print's advertising problem – tying one hand behind its back

Last week Karl Schneider, Reed Business Information’s Editorial Director, spent an hour chatting with students in my Online Journalism class. Most of it is available on video here, but of particular interest to me was a point Karl made about how Reed separated its online advertising into a separate company very early on, and are now reaping the benefits (embedded above).

“Because we had print businesses to protect we spent at least as much time worrying about not doing something on the web that would undercut the money coming in in print as worrying about ‘How do we make this new stuff grow’ … One of the big revenue streams for us was recruitment ads … So when we started to do online jobs one of the big challenges was ‘How can we do this without damaging all of the money tied up in print?’ And very quickly we realised that if we worry about that, we’re going to be rubbish at online job ads, because we’re always going to be operating with one hand tied behind our backs. And we’ll be competing against pure-play onlines who won’t have that worry.

“So what we ended up doing was setting up our online jobs advertising operation as a separate business and allowed it to compete head-to-head with our print business, and it caused all sorts of internal arguments – but it was absolutely the right thing to do because we’re making more money now out of online jobs than we ever did from print jobs. Less per job – there’s a lot more job ads – but it took separating it off [as a separate business] to do it.”

I’ve written about this problem before. Although on paper there are economies to be made by combining print and web ad sales, that’s not a strategy for future growth.

Instead, it appears to result in a prolonged addiction to the dying cash cow of print ads (and, anecdotally, a frustrating experience for advertisers wishing to move money from print to online). Judging by the recent research into magazine ad sales (PDF) in the US (image below), the magazine industry may need to listen to Karl’s experiences.

87% of ad staff work across both print and web

Image taken from CJR research into magazine websites (link above). 'To' should say 'Two'

10 thoughts on “Print's advertising problem – tying one hand behind its back

  1. Winooski

    It takes a lot of corporate discipline to separate out those lines of business, but clearly, in Reed Business Information’s case, it’s well worth doing.

    BTW, you may want to update the infographic to change “To separate teams…” to “Two separate teams…”.

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  3. Jim Berrien

    This ignores totally what the media customers are asking for…which is qualified talented and well informed MEDIA EXPERTS calling on them (the fewer the better) to propose a package of media opportunities that suits THERI(the clients’) needs.

  4. Winooski

    “the infographic was published by the Columbia Journalism Review, so I can’t correct their typo”

    Thanks for the explanation, Paul.

    Here’s the thing: clear communication is obviously important to you; otherwise you wouldn’t have included the chart in the first place. That being the case, I’d say that the disservice being done to your readers by the significant syntactic error (“‘To separate teams’? To separate them, I should do…what?”) far outweighs the inconvenience of Photoshopping in a “Two” and adding a tiny-text caption, “Original image courtesy of Columbia Journalism Review, edited to correct typo in original text.”

    What’s more, if the graphic indeed came from the Columbia Journalism Review, where’s the attribution? Isn’t that sort of a basic tenet of journalism, whether online or off-, that fair-use material incorporated in a publication receive some sort of basic credit?

    My apologies for going off on a rant, but I think your argument is indefensible given the context of this web site, and I sincerely hope you’ll correct the graphic AND give Columbia Journalism Review proper attribution for the original.

  5. Paul Bradshaw

    CJR are attributed in the link in the sentence above the graphic that refers to it: “Judging by the recent research into magazine ad sales in the US (image below)”

    I’m not going to spend time in Photoshop for a literal which still makes sense anyway. But I’ll add a link direct to the PDF for convenience and mention the typo in the body.

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  8. Ben Harrow

    This totally caught me off guard, tagging in YouTube videos still confuses me.

    But i love the fact that a very usable and memorable quote came out of one of my questions; ‘internal arguements’ alone are certainly a heavy price to pay, but it was brave to start up so strong with online job ads and the success is well deserved.

    Hopefully, in the near future, we won’t have ‘one hand tied behind our backs’ when a new channel arrives and threatens the stability of the jobs we’ll soon be in!


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