Dead or Alive – Print Media in Lighting

Posted: May 3, 2020 in Uncategorized

The way we  access information is evolving. Where books and magazine publications were once the only reliable source of information, the evolution of digital media has blown some holes in the world of paper based media. By all indications, those holes are not going to heal, they are going to grow. The question is, will these holes tear the very fabric of print based information and advertising apart?

News Paper Readership Decline

Newspapers were once the mainstay of people’s daily diet of current information. Today, daily circulation remains roughly equal to what it was in 1940.

Print media

This Pew Research indicates a fairly small decline in absolute readership and a trend toward growing newspaper web sites. However, what is missing in the obviously pre-print digital article, is the relevant numbers that put the numbers presented in real world perspective. One such value missing, is population data:

population

If you combine the two you get an entirely different picture of the trend involved. Here, we see that readership has declined by more than 46% of the population in the past 70 years.

Readers

Magazine Readership Trends

Magazine readership differs from newspapers.  The Audit Bureau  of Circulations  (ABC), reports regularly on the activities and trends of print media. A summary of this at Print Week (2018)  indicates that while some publications are down in circulation, others are seeing a trend in digital media supporting increases in print publication interest – for some.

Hit hardest are news and current affairs publications, which declined the most (-15%), and financial and science related titles (-6%) in just one year. Readership of consumer magazines saw print titles slump (-5%), and digital readership jump (+37%).

Sales volume in news stands reflect these trends, with a decline of more than 50% since 2007, as reported by Forbes. In this report, where a decade ago, 20% of audited magazine sales came from single copy sales, by 2018 that number had dwindled to 8%.

That said, the Association of Magazine Media has presented a remarkable review of the industry titled ‘Magazine Media 360‘ showing that over the period of 2014 to 2019, the collection of 135 brands, representing 95% of adult readership has grown 24%. In this same report, the following graphic is an eye opener:

360

Not only do magazines exceed digital outlets, combining print+ digital is not catching fire (-10%), nor is web based media (-34%) as many expected. Yet, mobile media (+122%) and video (+425%) do appear to be trending upward at a noteworthy pace – likely thanks to the invention of the Phablet (big display smart phones). In the same report, social media trends were included, and indicate a rapidly growing connection with social media engagements, although with a decline in Facebook importance over Instagram and Twitter.

Given that magazine readership as a whole is trending well, it would appear that print publications have a reason to be optimistic. As summarized at FIPP the death of magazines is clearly unfounded. With the exception of a few silos – like those focused on teen interests as reviewed by HelloGiggles – print publications do have life remaining in them, and there remains room for more still.

Lighting Magazine Trends

So, taking a look at the lighting industry, we have the following short list of print publications:

Architectural Lighting – no longer in print – on-line only
Illuminate Magazine – gone
Solar Today Magazine– Still going
LEDs Magazine
– Still going strong
Architectural SSL – Still in print, albeit thinner and less frequent
LD&A – IES member publication – Still going strong
ARC– Still very strong and as beautiful as ever
Residential Lighting – gone
Lighting (Better Homes and Gardens) – ALA member publication
darc – Still going
LED Professional – Still at it

This would indicate that for the foreseeable future, there is still life in print media serving the lighting community. While many of those mentioned above do have digital media as part of their repertoire, a review of each will show that digital is not their focus, save Architectural Lighting Magazine.

General Observation

A troubling observation in looking at the condition of lighting focused magazines overall, is that those targeted mainly at the domestic US market (Architectural Lighting, Architectural SSL), are not as strong, or are gone (Residential Lighting, Illuminate), where globally focused magazines are apparently thriving.

A part of this may be the advertising dynamics involved that keep print magazines alive. Larger corporations in lighting are now more globally focused than ever, making publications with wide wing spans more attractive. Small manufacturers, experiencing both downward price pressures and increased operating costs, may simply not have the budget for print advertising campaigns. Further, the expansion of regional lighting shows and local lighting events, draws marketers toward direct engagement opportunities where they can see and feel actual customer response, over print media ads that often produce weak lead data.

Another dynamic might be the sluggish domestic construction market. The roller coaster of moving targets between market segments, with no real broad foundation of regular work leads to odd advertising effectiveness effects. In a market heavily driven by Value Engineering, advertising qualities and unique features often falls flat. The international market does not seem to suffer this condition to the same degree as the USA.

My View

My preference is for books when I am seeking technical information. I find articles in magazines far too thin on usable data, riddled with bias of authors too careful to avoid offending advertisers, and frequently too dumbed-down, or tightly focused to reduce word counts, to be of real use. If I am seeking information or data on a topic I cannot find in a current book, my tendency is to invest time in a web based hunt and scrub, digging through as many sites I can find, comparing information from reviews, manufacturer data, blogs, and other content sources, to derive a sort of consensus of information.

The Inherent Weakness of Print Periodicals of all Types

Magazines have a frustrating trait of providing information I really am interested in, at the moment I don’t particularly need it. By the time I do need it, and assuming I remember which issue it was in, and in what year, finding that information and putting it to use is rarely effective. So, back to the web it is…

In days past, I regularly read everything I could, and stored it all away for future use. Even when I was busy, the time to read a magazine, often cover to cover, was there. As time has passed, the amount of information being blasted at me like a giant fire-hose, from print and digital sources, combined with the frustrating trend of customers and employers to demand more from us, with no additional time available, has changed my reality from absorb-process-store-utilize, to define-seek-apply-move on in shorter and shorter cycles over more tasks than ever.

On top of the change from contemplative approach to attack and execute, is the pace of change in the information we access every day. For example, what we read about SSL technology ten years ago is barely relevant today beyond the rudimentary basics. Between technologies moving forward, changes in codes and regulation, shifts in market interests, and market conditional effects… filling one’s head with today’s data for future use is a futile exercise. Magazines are basically little snap-shots of current events and conditions, in a world where the details contained within those images of the present fade faster than unsealed Polaroid pictures in the sun.

Granted, the Internet is no better. The web is littered with garbage, out of date information, opinions, bias, and lack of organization. What makes it work, however, is that with a little learned skill, one can find numerous articles and data sets, collected from desperate sources, that, when compiled, produce insight beyond anything a single article in a print publication can provide… with one massive further advantage – all that information and data is there 24/7, on the screen, and searchable with a few keystrokes. This makes content available timely to the moment in ways print media and books cannot contest.

I frequently read books in order to improve my capabilities or understanding. Over the last few years, I will simultaneously read and web search the same topic, qualifying, clarifying, and adding depth to what the author of the book offered up. After all, a book’s author is just one individual, or a group with a shared motive and/or bias.  I am not interested in being indoctrinated, I read (print or digital) with the intent of gaining understanding.

I will not, for purposes of keeping this from getting too long, get into the shift in media consumption that is occurring as Boomers age out and Millennial’s become ore influential in the market. The strata between these extremes is going to change things in ways we cannot yet fully appreciate.

Conclusion

In my view, the existence of print media and its future health, is dependent on continued funding from advertisers and subscribers. As long as there is interest in print display ads, there will be printed magazines. As long as there are individuals of a necessary quantity to deliver revenue from subscription costs, there will be print publications. This dilutes the value of print media to some degree, as editors balance the need to present timely and interesting content, against the need to placate advertisers and finicky subscribers.

There is another dynamic at play here – the lack of an alternative. Printed publications require no batteries, can be consumed anywhere. There is also a preference for print today that remains strong enough. Finally, monetizing the internet remains frustratingly difficult on par with specialty publication. Digital advertising is not yet producing the same impact as display ads have in the past – except for those few who have figured out this new universe.

Does this mean we will always have print publications in lighting? Not a chance. Most likely, there will be an innovation in hardware, software, revenue generation, or market preference that will put an end to killing trees to provide untimely information for archiving to be lost in the tornado of a busy distracted professionals in the lighting market.

In my own universe, I need more data and information to be searchable at my desktop, not stuffed on a shelf somewhere. I’d like it if every print book came with a web link to its content, that I can include in my research efforts – expanding the use of the reading portion of the effort well into the future. A few magazines that offer that now, so can only see this increasing in availability and quality over time.

 

 

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