Print is dead. Or so they say.

Year on year, daily sales of print are falling. Every newspaper saw its circulation fall last year.

News publications are now focusing on digital. Let’s take one of the largest daily papers in the UK, the Daily Mail. Its daily circulation is 1.6 million papers, that’s how many papers it sells. Conversely, its online operation MailOnline attracts 200 million visitors per month.

Surely with those reach figures, we are justified in focusing on digital channels.

Maybe.

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Print is effective

There’s also the question of how effective our communications channels are, for example newspapers.

NewsWorks, an industry organisation for the press, ran a series of studies on the effectiveness of newspapers in brand-building campaigns. The organisation is seeking to defend newspapers against ‘printism’ in the sector.

In particular, the research they commissioned looked at the role of the press in the modern media mix. And its effect on return on investment for brands.

The studies concluded that adding newspapers to any brand campaign “boosts ROI by 3 times on average.”

It combined data from internal econometric models, the IPA databank, and brand uplift surveys.

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Establishing effectiveness

The research is important for two reasons.

It’s important, firstly, because of the methodology used. The studies brought together a series of three approaches: econometrics, controlled exposure tests and surveys.

Econometrics and controlled exposure tests measure internal business metrics and groups the results with traditional consumer opinion measures i.e. surveys.

The mix of longer-term and short-term measures gives us something closer to a full picture of business effects for brands i.e. shifts in behaviour and sales.

This measures outcomes that matter to our clients, from both the world of communications and marketing.

Secondly, the NewsWorks studies are also important because they call into question the broader shift towards digital channels.

Marketing and communications budgets do indeed skew in favour of digital channels. This is reflected by a sustained growth in advertising spend on digital channels over the previous three years (Advertising Association, Q1 2016).

However, the quality of digital attention is up for debate.

A recent study by research firm Lumen showed that only 9% of digital content received more than a second’s worth of attention.

The quality of attention given to press content is much higher: 40% of content was viewed for one second or more.

It’s surprising then to see that advertising spend on national newspapers fell by 17% year on year (Advertising Association, Q1 2016).

In short, digital content reaches significantly more screens than print, but then reaches a low share of people paying attention to content on screens.

The issue is then one of time.

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Can’t we just have some quality time?

Let’s return to those Daily Mail figures again.

So every day, the Daily Mail sells 1.6 million papers every day and attracts 6.7 million visitors to its website.

When we apply those attention rates from Lumen to the Daily Mail figures and we see an almost level playing field for active viewers:

  • Online sees 9% of content viewed for over a second, amounting to 600,000 people.
  • Print sees 40% of content viewed for over a second, amounting 640,000 people.

We know that print is no longer “the winning destination” (Guardian’s director of publishing Richard Furness). Digital channels provide more figures to us to help tell the story of effectiveness. These numbers are often larger than those seen on other channels.

But we also know that brand activity in press brings some tangible sales effects.

This is most likely driven by the higher quality of attention that consumers give to newspapers than digital channels for example.

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No need for a post mortem

When we measure channels, we measure how people behave.

People are more likely to give printed content quality time, than content on digital channels.

The same applies to brands in print.

So the next time you compile your next comms plan, consider the effects of your activity.

If you want quality attention from your audience and a return on your investment, consider the printed press.

Print certainly is not dead.