If you look through enough comments by several media executives in recent years, most foresee a time when the period of printed media comes to an end.
Although print products, subscriptions, and even ever-dwindling newsstand sales typically make more money for publishers than digital, they also cost a lot more to produce. While publishers are still set on squeezing what money they can out of the shrinking number of people who prefer a print product over a screen, mainly by regularly increasing the price of magazines and newspapers, more than ever before publishing executives are willing to admit that print may not be a part of the business forever.
“At least 10 years is what we can see in the U.S. for our print products,” said Mark Thompson, chief executive officer of The New York Times. “There may come a point when the economics of [the print paper] no longer makes sense for us.”
Thompson said that on CNBC about 18 months ago. This despite digital subscriptions to The Times being bigger than ever at around 3.5 million and the company having ambitions of paid digital readers reaching 10 million, a number that could likely float a continued print business, if that’s what the Times wanted.
Marty Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post, also thinks printed news has an expiration date. He told his own paper earlier this year that they could “discard the lingering notion that paper will remain for long a big part of what we do. It will not.”
Baron didn’t put a specific time frame on it, saying instead print will continue “for a while, yes” but pointedly adding, “It will not last.”
So, America’s two largest and most successful newspapers seem to be firmly in the corner of print becoming a question in a “Jeopardy!” category about the early 21st century. What about the tech guys, like Google? The company makes heavy use of newspaper and magazine content for its core search engine and has lately been investing in news-related projects.
“Clearly, it’s going to peter out,” he said a year ago. “Five years, 10 years, I don’t know. If you simply look at younger generations, it’s completely irrelevant — our heads are in [our smartphones] all day. So what’s the value of a print vehicle?”
That makes two huge sectors of media in the “end of print” camp. One relative holdout, unsurprisingly, is magazines. Executives from both Condé Nast and Hearst Magazines see their titles, at least some of them, continuing on.
Although Hearst is taking a hard turn into digital, with new executives and a restructuring of the magazines’ sales business, chief content officer Kate Lewis said she’s planning for magazines to exist 20 years from now, claiming subscribers are still “strong.”
“Magazines can fill that [role] of a gift that you’re giving yourself,” Lewis said. “In some cases, they’re both an indulgence and a utility…it’s a combination of those things and I think there’s an appetite still. I really do.”
Roger Lynch, just a few months into his role as ceo of Condé, still sees a future for print, too, albeit likely on an even smaller scale than it is now.
At Recode’s annual fall media conference, Lynch admitted that other of Condé’s 10 remaining print magazines “may make that transition [to digital-only] at some point.” He characterized Self — out of print since 2017 after almost 40 years — as a success story in this regard, saying the business has turned around. He didn’t have the same praise for Glamour, which closed regular print in 2018.
Lynch did single out Condé’s now-core titles of Vogue, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Wired, GQ and Architectural Digest as ones he “can’t imagine” not being in print.
Nevertheless, a handful of magazines don’t make a robust print media economy. The new era of the Twenties is likely the decade that printed magazines and newspapers take their place firmly in the past.