There is a moment of annoyance in realising that the price of the weekend edition of the Financial Times has risen from £3.80 to £3.90, it means that the cost of it added to the £1.20 spent on the weekend edition of the Morning Star comes to £5.10 – an awkward amount for someone who likes neatness. Having an online subscription to the Financial Times, there is no need at all to buy the paper copy, but stories and features read on a screen simply do not feel the same as such writing having a tactile presence in one’s hand.
The FT suggests that tactile copy is losing its appeal. In an article on the decline of glossy magazines, it reports the suggestion of the accountants PWC, that advertising revenue for glossy magazines will fall to $6.7 billion by 2021, having fallen from $13.6 billiion in 2012. Print circulation is predicted to drop by 23% in that time. In the U.K., the outlook is forecast to mirror the international decline, advertising revenue falling by 49% and circulation revenue falling by 37%.
Given the rise and rise of digital publishing, it would seem a reasonable assumption that the expenditures once devoted to advertisements in the print media would now be paying for a presence in websites, but the digital advertising does not have the impact of printed pages. The FT notes that Procter and Gamble cut $100 million from their digital advertising budget without it having an impact on sales. Millions of views of web pages are not translating into sales on the scale that had been anticipated. One person quoted suggested that 100,000 readers of a publication for which they had paid were worth more than 10 million readers on a website.
Why is the Internet stuttering? Why are the websites with a readership dozens of times greater than their print counterparts not attracting advertising? Perhaps it’s about the level of commitment required; purchasing a magazine is a demonstrable financial statement of one’s interest. Most websites demand no commitment, a person prepared to pay for a single magazine might drift through the websites of dozens of publishers, it may cost nothing and may mean nothing.
The issue may be deeper than one of interest being expressed through financial commitment, a newspaper or a magazine for which one pays is more likely to be something in which one trusts than a website where publication costs nothing and where stories may disappear as quickly as they appear. The old fashioned process of producing a magazine, demanding the costs of producing and distributing a publication, was a form of quality control, it ensured a reasonable veracity, it allowed for accountability. Online publishing demands less and, accordingly, commands less confidence. Perhaps the failure of digital advertising to have the impact that was once anticipated reflects the failure of the Net to command the authority of its hard copy predecessors.