August 11, 2015 Last Updated 10:59 am

Print newspaper ad teams get a break from media analysts

Media companies usually hold conference calls following releasing their earnings statements. Tribune Publishing is holding their call as I write this and anything interesting concerning digital will be added to the story concerning their earnings. Because of this, anything said below shouldn’t attributed to that call, I have no idea what will be said.

Well, not really. I can guess what questions will be asked at the end of the presentation: what are you doing about acquisitions? and what are you doing in digital?

I suppose that is to be expected as those are the areas where there would be new information generated. But most earnings conference calls start off with talk about declining print revenue. Never, never, are questions asked about what the hell these companies are doing about it.

Instead, it is a given that print advertising is going away and, by inference, there is nothing to be done about it.

I know quite a number of print ad sales people who are pretty happy about this – the pressure’s off – but unhappy that the companies they work for are not interested in considering steps that might taken to fix the situation.

Most sellers tell me they think rates are their biggest barrier to selling more print. Digital is cheap, and print rates only seem to go in one direction. Meanwhile, print ad sellers are expected to work against prior year comparisons – so selling cheaper digital advertising generally goes against making goal. To offset this, many publishers offer bonuses or other incentives to grow digital sales. That’s great, some say, but that makes already low-margin sales even more low-margin.

Many of the major metro papers are today locked into agreements with third party classified vendors, and arrangement that some publishers are starting to finally see is counterproductive. But they are locked in, at least for a few years. Some are seeing that their old way of looking at digital, that this needed to be outsourced, simply doesn’t work.

With digital revenue at many newspaper companies still hovering around 12-15 percent of total revenue (there are a few exceptions), one might think that experimenting with print would be worth whatever risks that may be involved. Few are optimistic about the future of print advertising, yet few want to do anything that might accelerate the declines. Investors seem to buy into this. The future is digital, they think, so they want to know about digital. They also probably want off the newspaper investment desk and onto the tech desk. After all, not much seems to be going on with the clients they follow.

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