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Everything you need to know about the future of print media in a single chart

May 27, 2015

It's always fun when Kleiner Perkins Caulfield Byers analyst Mary Meeker comes out with her annual "State of the Internet" slide deck. There often isn't all that much that is shocking or surprising about her conclusions, but the slideshow condenses and aggregates information about the state of affairs in tech and media in a very useful way. For example, she has one chart that likely strikes terror (or at least should strike terror) into the heart of print publishers everywhere.

The chart shows the percentage of time that U.S. adults spend on various forms of media—print, radio, television, etc.—compared to the amount of advertising spending that is devoted to that medium. And when it comes to print, the slide shows a yawning gap between the amount of attention devoted to that medium and the amount of advertising money that gets spent on it: a gap of 14 percentage points, in fact.

A slide from KPCB analyst Mary Meeker Mary Meeker / KPCB 

As Josh Benton points out at the Nieman Journalism Lab, this slide shows up every year in Meeker's presentation. The latest version is actually somewhat better in terms of the gap between attention and spending: in the 2011 version, print got 25% of the spending and just 7% of the attention, for a gap of 18 percentage points. Now the gap has shrunk, but it continues to be larger than any other media with the exception of mobile, which is a relatively new category (and its gap is in the other direction).

Just because print gets a smaller amount of attention doesn't necessarily mean that the proportion of ad spending should be identical, of course. There are plenty of complicating factors—including the fact that many print-based media outlets offer deals to brands that tie sales of online ads to the print version. Print is also arguably better for some forms of "brand building" advertising, or at least a number of advertising agencies and brands continue to believe this.

But that said, the likelihood of that gap remaining where it is seems vanishingly small. And as media theorist Clay Shirky has argued, there could even be a second "cliff" coming for advertising sales, in which print reach drops below a certain point and ad agencies and brands suddenly decide it is no longer worth it. If nothing else, media entities should remember that corrections don't always happen in nice smooth curves.

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