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Is The Print Ad Dead?

Recently on a LinkedIn group, someone started a conversation on whether or not print advertizing is dead. Of course, to most people in most businesses in most of the world, that question doesn’t even make sense. Far-and-away, most businesses are small businesses. Just looking at the U.S., there are more than 50 times as many businesses with fewer than 100 employees than there are with 100 or more.

Graph of number of U.S. firms by number of employees.
U.S. Firms by Number of Employees (2008)

But while small businesses represent about half the revenue of the U.S., and about half the employment of the U.S., only 3% of their advertising budget goes to on-line, according to AdWeek. So certainly, no, the print ad is not dead.

However, if you work in technology or social media, it’s easy to understand how this question arises. It’s easy to think that the Internet in general, and in-bound marketing in particular, are the be-all and end-all of marketing in the modern world. In fact, it’s fairly natural selective exposure. That’s why it’s all the more important that we marketers not spend too much time dwelling on the death of printing, and instead put in concerted effort to make sure we’re not accidentally ignoring print media.


A graph of number of job applicants by medium
EU Job Applicants by Medium

Well, for example, a recent report on social media recruiting [update 2019/08/11 — report no longer available] included some data that was (at least to me) quite surprising: in 2012 and 2013 across seven EU countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden), print advertizing still resulted in an average of 15.62 applicants — second only to job boards, and well ahead of agencies and social media. But perhaps more importantly, we all now live in a small and shrinking world. Perhaps print media is dying in North America and the E.U. — but North America and the E.U. are not the world. And according to data from the World Association of Newspapers, more than half the world’s adults — 2.5 billion people — read a daily newspaper in print.

"Chart of change in newspaper readership, by global region.
Newspaper Readership Growth by Region

With all the talk of the death of the newspaper, how can this be? It’s simple. While print subscriptions are declining dramatically in North American and Europe, that decline is offset by growth in the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America. And in case you’ve been living under a rock, those places are also where all of the world’s business growth is happening.

What’s more, I predict that newspaper readership will actually continue to increase substantially for at least the next five years, as both global literacy rates and the global growth of the middle class continue. Ultimately, even in the developing world, enough of the population will be rich enough and digitally connected enough that print will die off there as well — but that time is still a long way off.

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