The advertising industry Rorschach test

If you’re working at a print newspaper (or magazine), here’s a link to the scariest chart you’ll see this year. (And here’s the original source.)

If you thought print was dying, well, according to that chart, it’s not even started to get really sick yet. Life is going to get much, much, much worse for the print industry.

The Flurry study cited above showed that while the percentage of all money spent on advertising that went to television and radio ads roughly matched the percentage of time people spent watching TV and listening to radio, the percentage of money spent on print advertising was nearly five times larger than the percentage of time people spent reading print, versus consuming other media.

In short, even with all the recent cuts in print advertising revenue, the ad industry is still way overspending on print versus the amount of time consumers are paying attention to it.

So if advertisers are overspending on print, they must be underspending on some other medium, right? While the Flurry study found significant underspending on Web advertising, the real opportunities were in mobile – where the study found consumers were spending 23 percent of their time but industry was spending just one percent of its ad dollars.

From my reading of the Flurry report, it appears that they attributed time on iOS and Android devices as time spent on mobile. But a lot of the time that I spent on my iPhone I spend looking at the Web, and it’s unclear to me whether the ads I see on my mobile Web browser would be attributed to the Web category or the mobile one. If I’m at all representative of the rest of the population, there’s a blurred line between the Web and mobile for this sort of analysis.

Regardless, the Flurry study suggests that there’s much more growth to come in ad spending on Web and mobile as the ad industry lags changes in consumer behavior. Whether than becomes Web ad spending, Web spending targeted at mobile, or some new, emerging format for mobile advertising, people are spending too much time on these media, relative to what business is spending to reach them, for advertisers not to make the switch and chase them. At some point, the market will balance and more of that print ad market share will flow to online.

Let’s not forget that advertising is just one part of the revenue picture, either. What do I do when I’m not reading Websites on my tablet? I’m reading eBooks. Frequent OJR readers should be well familiar by now with my evangelism for eBooks. I hope that the Flurry study will further encourage you to get into that marketplace, as well. As people spend more time online and with mobile, there are direct sales opportunities there for content publishers, whether that be through eBooks, apps, movies or something else we’ve yet to envision, in addition to ad sales opportunities.

What you see in this chart probably reflects your perspective on the changes disrupting the news industry – as evidence of continuing doom in the print publishing industry, or as a road map to the ongoing gold rush in online media. Just because newspaper executives who drove all the disruptive challengers and potential innovators from their industry can’t figure out how to make money online doesn’t prove in any way that money isn’t there to be made. The Flurry chart should make the opportunities clear.

More layoffs are coming to print newsrooms. Companies that entrust their future to managers who’ve spent their entire careers in print will continue to lose market share, and fail. But there’s plenty of money there for people who can build the expertise to use Web and mobile media to solve problems for advertisers and consumers more effectively than a declining print medium can.

The picture’s clear. Are you willing to look at it?

About Robert Niles

Robert Niles is the former editor of OJR, and no longer associated with the site. You may find him now at