Print: Not dead, but changing. Thoughts on the “Great Newsstand Publishing Realignment.”

Headshot of Bob Sacks

I am greatly interested in the “great newsstand publishing realignment panel” (my title of the event, not theirs) at the PBAA-MPA conference, that will take place in Philadelphia on Tuesday, at 9 AM. On that panel will be much of the leadership of the major newsstand publishers in this country.

Missing, of course, is any leadership from Time Inc, which is no surprise, as they have no leadership at this time. Time is like an armada of titles with hundreds of captains and no admiral. In such a scenario, those individual ships can win a skirmish or two, but the fleet will flounder as the major battles of our businesses rages on. What I am most curious about will be the honesty and sobriety of the dialog in the PBAA event. While aggregate numbers can be misleading on an individual title basis where some titles can be doing very well, the overall number for the newsstand industry is still very meaningful and not particularly encouraging when you see a 40% – 45% loss over the last five years.

So in publishing conferences, what does an industry do in times like these that are trying the souls of so many a newsstand publishers and distributors alike? Do we stand on the platform and say have no worries because things will eventually get back to normal? If so, which normal would that be?

If we are going to be honest, we are already living in the new normal now. How would I define the new normal, you might ask? I’m glad you asked and I’ll tell you. The new normal is going to be decreased print subs and decreased print newsstand sales until we reach that magic plateau moment somewhere in the near future where we bottom out from primarily a print-oriented business to one where digital products will represent the largest share of a smaller periodical industry. This forecast naturally includes the continued growth and profitability of the digital information distribution business, formally known as publishing. Five years ago the analysts at my company mediaIdeas forecasted that by 2020 publishing revenue would be 38% print revenue and 58% digital revenue. Now many years into that forecast, we may be off by a few percentage points, but I will still stand by the trend and eventual conclusion of that data.

As I have said before, we continually mistake a change in dominance for death. I assure you that this loss of dominance as a medium is not equivalent to death—it just feels that way. Print is not dead or dying, but it is surely changing. Our calculations leave approximately 12 – 15 billion in print revenues on the table. Not as much as there once was but still plenty of profit to share and enjoy among industry combatants who may choose to stay solely in print.

So, how our leadership explains the current situation of slowed but continued, reasonable and respectable profits to a sober group of retail professionals who need to know about their near and far future remains to be seen.


Bob Sacks (aka BoSacks) is a printing/publishing industry consultant and president of The Precision Media Group (BoSacks.com). He is also the co-founder of the research company Media-Ideas (Media-Ideas.net), and publisher and editor of a daily international e-newsletter, Heard on the Web. Sacks has held posts as director of manufacturing and distribution, senior sales manager (paper), chief of operations, pressman, circulator and almost every other job this industry has to offer.


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