Eight out of 10 printed publications will be digital-only in the next four years. What does this mean for the industry journalists love to hate, the industry in charge of influencing behaviour through words: Public Relations?
What does the future of Public Relations look like? Technology trends and corporate insights can provide us some clues: The Spectator for instance, showed it now sells three digital copies for every four they sell in print on the newsstand. It's about to hit an all-time record high for total issues sold. Looking at the growth trend for digital issues over print, it's likely they'll stop printing in the next four years and concentrate solely on digital. The Guardian too has raised eyebrows as digital revenues increased 16 percent to £45.7m last year, increasingly justifying the economical argument for it to become digital only.
With the exception of the 'i' newspaper, nearly all others and printed magazines are seeing the circulations reduced year-on-year. Speaking with Jonathan Church, who used to be a publishing director at Financial Times and business development manager at The Economist, he said "when magazines circulations hit below 30,000, it becomes extremely difficult to survive. That's the cut-off point from which big advertisers step out."
Therefore, within the next four years (and with tablets 16x more powerful), it's likely 70-80 percent of all printed publications will be digital only. For journalists and PRs alike, this has four big ramifications. Firstly, there are no more editorial deadlines. When a magazine gets published once a week on a Friday, everything must be ready for print on Thursday. Entire publishing organizations are set-up to deliver on this schedule. When it goes digital, there are no more deadlines. All articles are published as and when they're finished. For campaigning PRs, this is of benefit as they can call a journalist at any time not worrying about deadline days or editorial conference meetings.
Secondly, digital-only publications are hungry for content. They need to publish far more than printed circulations to earn an equivalent sum in advertising revenues. Again, this is beneficial to PRs, as a well-written news release will be more likely to be used. Conversely however, editors will also become hungry for shareable content. Chasing page views will be top of their agenda, as Ryan Holiday clearly explains in Trust Me, I'm Lying, and this will be a problem for the dullest of brands as who wants to share a financial report on Facebook?
Thirdly, digital-only publications pose a big change to PRs. They'll finally be able to value their work like advertisers. Every web-master knows how many visitors have come to a certain webpage, how long they stayed, who they are and where they went next. Theoretically, this information is available to sell. Advertisers already pay for it, so why not PRs too? PRs could measure how long a visitor read their coverage for, which key messages they absorbed, and, dare-they-admit-it, track their visiting habits to see where they went next; did they buy the product? The distinction between advertising and PR will be fundamentally blurred in this regard, and as measurement leads to management, it's likely PRs will begin to realise video content is more engaging and will concentrate on more of its production, as forward-thinking brands are already doing.
And fourthly, no digital publication will be the same for two readers. Gone will be the days PRs chase the front page -- there won't be a front page. Flipboard's success of gaining 56 million readers shows users want to curate their own content. I'm interested in media, technology and bicycles, and intelligent digital publications will understand this, showing only such content. Two further implications come out of this: Journalism (and thus PR) will become very niche; and advertisers will pay more.
The end of printed publications has big implications for the future of PR. Campaigning for behavioural change and using words to persuade will become much harder due to the fleeting nature of the web. Whilst it'll become easier to have content published, that content will remain at the top of streams only for minutes if not seconds. To adapt, PRs will have to become much like journalists themselves, publishing constantly to win the battle of page views.