Much is trumpeted about millennials' rejection of traditional media. It seems like common sense, perhaps. Millennials (and many of us from older generations) certainly love digital media for its accessible, on-demand nature. It's a profound notion to consider that everyone with Internet access on their smartphone carries in their pocket an encyclopedia, a dictionary, and in fact, a complete library of everything humankind knows about ourselves, our world, and our history (or at least what we believe is known). All of this information is almost always at our fingertips. Incredible.
But what is the truth about Generation Y's use of good ol' fashioned print media?
To begin, the problem for print hasn't been concluded by research to be a dwindling audience, but rather it's a challenge of maintaining advertisers and hence critical revenue. It's almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy. As marketers believe that print matters less, they throw their advertising dollars into more exciting and contemporary media that is largely digital. This causes bottom-line issues for print publishers who must then resuit up their strategies to tap the online advertising revenue, thereby making their printed publications more challenging to sustain.
This isn't to suggest that print media doesn't have a subscription concern — it's believed, for example, that newspaper subscription revenue for the print industry has dropped about 10% over the past 10 years as reported by Pew Research, but "several public companies have reported small declines." Emphasis on "small." When we consider that most print publishers have determined ways to take their content online and tap into the online ad revenue while maintaining their printed offerings, we might conclude that the "issue" of dropping subscriber rates isn't really a crisis for the industry. It's a restructuring or reorganization — the same fingers going into different pots.
Last December, the Atlantic reported on data from Pew Research including this interesting gem:
"Young mobile readers don't want apps and mobile browsers that look like the future. They want apps that look like the past: 58% of those under 50, and 60% of millennials, prefer a 'print-like experience' over tech features like audio, video, and complex graphics. That preference toward plain text 'tends to hold up across age, gender and other groups.' Pew reports: 'Those under 40 prefer the print-like experience to the same degree as those 40 and over.'"
So it turns out that the type of reading experience that high percentages prefer is something more like print, while not really print itself.
This leads me to the question: do millennials read traditional print — newspapers and magazines?
Magazine publishers have figured out that the way to engage readers is via social networking. In mid-2012 we saw reports that "nearly all millennials read magazines — 93 percent of those surveyed said that they have looked at a magazine in the past 60 days."
Most recently, a study of the millennial cohort deemed "early adopters" (those who embrace new technology quickly upon inception) determined that 62% of these early adopters have read a magazine in the past week. Even more impressively, 66% have read a newspaper. An actual, real life, paper newspaper. With pages.
And while we're taking note of these little surprises, we might as well marvel at the fact that 83% of these early adopters — these "cutting edge" technophiles with their Pandoras and their Spotifys — also indicated that they listened to traditional radio in the past week.
That answers the question firmly: millennials do read newspapers and magazines, and they do in fact use traditional media in total. As to whether the print industry will continue to appeal to a generation largely bent on green initiatives and inclined to access dynamic hyperlinked information constantly throughout the day via digital means remains to be seen. I wonder if the pile of magazines in the doctor's lobby will vanish with the Boomers and oldest Generation X'ers? I think it depends largely on whether those of us in the digital age adapt to the instant gratification of click, next, click, next, click data intake, and learn to slow down with our digital devices and enjoy a leisurely read. If not, we may find that only a book, a magazine, or a newspaper can force us to downshift a while and digest our brain food more carefully.