Media pundits predicting the demise of print outlets may have to hold off on those obituaries for a while longer.
The most striking finding in a new survey by Deloitte Services is that the vast majority of consumers, including those in the coveted young demographic, still have a surprising affinity for traditional magazines and newspapers.
Deloitte's "The State of the Media Democracy" study found that 72% of all those surveyed enjoyed reading print magazines, even with the knowledge that they could get the same information online. In addition, nearly two-thirds of all respondents - and nearly 70% of those aged 19-24 - tend to pay more attention to ads in print magazines and newspapers than they do ones online.
"The affinity of the millennials [both those in the 13-18 and 19-24 age groups] was noteworthy," says Ed Moran, director of product innovation with Deloitte. "But layer on top of that the results [being] so consistent across all generations. [That] was something that surprised us."
But there are many reasons why print, especially magazines, still holds such sway over consumers.
"There's a lot of anecdotal evidence that people just love the form factor of magazines," notes Moran. "You can read them on a train, lying in bed, or sitting at the table."
Hope Heyman, worldwide SVP and chief media strategist for corporate and public affairs at Edelman, concurs. "What has always been apparent," she says, "is that print, in many ways and in many cases, still leads the rest of the media."
Part of the reason for the continued cachet of print outlets is that in this era of user-generated content, consumers know that print stories are usually thoroughly reported, vetted by editors, and double-checked for accuracy. And ironically, despite being solidly "old school," print provides better random access, enabling readers to quickly skip over stories or jump from section to section.
More than that, Heyman says, "With online, you can lose the sense of what the editors think is important - by whether a story has been placed above or below the fold, for instance."
The Deloitte survey also found that consumers, including 58% of millennials, tend to think that magazines are more indicative of what people are doing in the real world.
"If young people see a celebrity in an ad driving a car or wearing an outfit, they tend to think, 'This is true,'" says Moran.
Moran emphasizes, however, that the lessons from the survey aren't that PR pros need to pull back their online efforts and go back to media outreach to print, or vice versa.
"It's not a zero-sum game," he says. "It's not that as online becomes more important, you can now take your eye off print. People can be reached a lot of different ways that they couldn't be reached before, but they're not giving up the old ways."
"It's nice that the Deloitte survey has made the point that traditional media isn't dead," adds GolinHarris SVP Jennifer Baker-Asiddao. "But the way you communicate with each individual target is the way that that person is going to be most open to receiving your information. So we have a lot more opportunities to reach that person than we had, say, a decade ago."
Of course, no one can tell if this affinity for print will be there a decade from now, especially as consumers turn to new sources like cell phones for information and entertainment.
But Moran suggests print, including books, is probably going to be around a while longer.
"I think it's been pretty much proven that things die off a lot slower than we think, and you usually have many competing technologies running side by side for a long time before a clear winner emerges," he says. "Remember, the death of radio has been predicted a number of times and it still hasn't happened."