The recent news that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is buying The Washington Post left a lot of people scratching their heads.
Why would one of the most successful leaders of online commerce invest in a “dying” industry like newspapers?
There’s a short answer to this: to paraphrase Mark Twain, the death of newspapers has been greatly exaggerated.
I don’t say this just as someone who has written travel pieces for a good number of newspapers over the years — including The Washington Post — and to some extent still do. Or as someone who cut his journalistic teeth in newsrooms from Ann Arbor to Long Island to Miami. Or as someone who still reads newspapers myself.
I also acknowledge that much of my current work is done in the digital realm, including this blog.
But then, much of the current work done by newspapers is also done in the digital realm, where much of their future growth potential lies. (And don’t think Jeff Bezos doesn’t see that.) For instance, I now read the New York Times almost exclusively online, though I read my local paper in print.
According to Caroline Little, president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America, newspapers (both in traditional print and digital form) attracted nearly $40 billion in revenue in 2012. In the same year, total circulation revenue (again, both print and digital) rose by five percent to $10.5 billion.
Yes, much of the increase is due to a rise in digital subscriptions, but that’s actually a good sign for the industry, which has struggled to figure out how to make money from the digital side for years.
Little writes in CNN Money that circulation growth can also be attributed to bundled digital and print packages; revenue from such packages has increased by nearly 500 percent, she reports, while digital-only revenue has increased by 275 percent.
Digital advertising revenues are also going up, though more slowly.
Print-only circulation isn’t at death’s door, either. Little cites a study by Scarborough research showing that of the seventy percent of Americans (158 million adults) who read newspapers — online or in print — each week, 144 million still turn the pages of old-fashioned print versions.
Many of these, I would note, are baby boomers (now aged 49-67), who — while embracing the digital age for the most part — still like the rustle of real newsprint. More than 60 percent still read their local newspaper front to back, and the number is even higher among leading-edge boomer women — who make most of the travel purchases in boomer families. (See my previous post on this topic.)
Surveys have shown that older boomers, at least, trust print newspapers about twice as much as news they read online. (And for good reason, since much of what appears online isn’t really subjected to professional or objective editing.)
When trying to reach baby boomer travelers, advertisers would be wise not to overlook newspaper travel sections — to the extent they still exist. Alas, too many have shrunk or disappeared altogether over the past decade.
Abandoning these sections is just another example of short-sightedness plaguing the ad industry, especially in regard to reaching baby boomers — who, after all, have more disposable income than any other segment of society and have shown a desire and willingness to spend a good bit of it on travel.
There’s no question that younger audiences respond in greater numbers to getting their news in digital form, especially on mobile devices, and that newspapers have to adapt themselves to that reality.
But as long as 76 million baby boomers remain a huge part of the travel-consuming public — and they will for decades to come — advertisers should flock to print as well as digital travel media.
Whatever you may think of Jeff Bezos and his often-cutthroat business practices, there’s no denying he’s figured out a way or two to make money — and he apparently recognizes the continued potential for newspapers in general.
Be sure to download my free report, “How to Ride the Coming Wave of Boomers,” available here. It’s all about the best ways to market travel to baby boomers — the biggest-spending group of travelers the world has ever seen.
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