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Nieman Journalism Lab
Pushing to the future of journalism — A project of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard

It’s an annual moment of print realism here at Nieman Lab: The posting of the attention slide from Mary Meeker’s state-of-the-Internet slide deck. I guess I can cut and paste from last year’s post:

For those who don’t know it, Meeker — formerly of Morgan Stanley, at VC firm Kleiner Perkins since late 2010 — each year produces a curated set of data reflecting what she sees as the major trends in Internet usage and growth. It may be the only slide deck that qualifies as an event unto itself.

What’s useful about Meeker’s deck is that its core data serves as a punctuation mark on some big, ongoing trends. The kind of trends we all know are happening, but whose annual rate of progress can be hard to judge. Like, say, the continued demise of print.

The Meeker slide that always interests me most is the one where she shows how American attention is divided among various forms of media —and how that division lines up with where advertising dollars go. How much of our attention goes to television, say, versus how much of our advertising go there?

It’s not absolute dogma that the two — audience attention and advertising dollars — always be equal. But it makes sense that they would tend toward parity. More people listening to the radio should lead to more companies advertising on the radio, or vice versa.

Anyway, here’s the chart for 2011:


The two things that jump out at me: Print gets a lot more advertising than it gets attention. And mobile is the opposite. You’d think that would equalize with time.

And here’s 2012:


Equalization! Or at least the path to equalization, proportionately. Print loses attention, but loses ad dollars a bit more quickly; mobile gains attention, but gains ad dollars a bit more quickly. (Sizable margin of error here, it’s worth saying.)

And here’s 2013:


The print story remains the same: down in attention and in ad dollars. But note there is still a wide gap between the two — print still gets far more ad dollars than its hold on the American attention would seem to “deserve.” Print advertising is not coming back. It will fall further. Substantially further. All newspaper planning for the coming few years needs to reckon with that basic fact.

Mobile continues its rocket rise, and there’s still lots of room for ad revenue growth. And now it’s even eating away at the Great American Time Suck, television. Mobile is eating the world, and most news organizations make only a pittance off it.

Here’s the optimist’s spin for print: Not all forms of media are equally useful for advertising. Mobile, thus far, has been notoriously difficult to monetize through advertising; app purchases and in-app payments are the dominant ways for companies to make money on phones. Display advertising doesn’t work as well on such small screens, and search ad revenue is reduced.

If that’s true, maybe print is just mobile’s opposite: uniquely aligned with an advertising model, with big lush expanses of newsprint aching for a cell phone provider’s printed embrace.

Maybe so! I buy that, a little. But Meeker’s slide deck is that useful, punctuating reminder of the deeper trend lines of the publishing business. And for newspapers, they’re not good, and they’ve still got a ways to go down.

Go check out the full presentation — lots more interesting stuff in there.

— Joshua Benton
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  • Johnlrobinson

    I have shown that slide to my mass comm classes for each of the past three years. I’ve come to the same conclusion as you. The students nod knowingly and ask basically this question: “Why don’t advertisers go to where the people are?” Of course, these are the same people who for the past 10 or 15 years have told newspapers that they don’t read them. And you’ll start seeing TV viewership going down, too.

  • Joshua Benton
  • Jen Dennis

    Question: Are you sure equating “time spent” with “attention” is fair?

  • Mandy

    “It’s not absolute dogma that the two — audience attention and
    advertising dollars — always be equal. But it makes sense that they
    would tend toward parity. More people listening to the radio should lead
    to more companies advertising on the radio, or vice versa.”

    This is, well, a rather shocking statement. Advertisers go to audiences that will purchase their products. It’s advertising 101. An audience of 1,000 people with money who buy products is better than an audience of 100,000 who can only afford movie tickets. And that’s even putting it simplistically. There are many other factors. Joshua, instead of shaking your head in wonderment at superficial numbers, why not learn something about how advertising works?

  • Tom Foremski

    Mobile is a disaster for media… five times less revenues on adverts:

  • NJ

    Time spent does not equate to attention – or engagement, or quality of audience, or effectiveness of advertising. This simplistic and lazy argument and chart is becoming tiresome.

  • richardaltman

    Print needs to incorporate a repurposing, not zero sum, they need to really curate what gets printed, how much, think trailers for articles, augmented clearly by QR which are only available in the print edition, the newspaper has to be considered the second screen of the tablet/mobile

  • Terrence Andrew Davis

    You think the National Instituite of Standards random number site will hand-out human picked random numbers?

  • thinker

    Excellent point. Also, “value” might differ from both, I suspect.

  • Liz Mars

    What we seem to be dancing around is the question, “given this chart, how much of the discrepancy is just industry lag, and how much of it is related to the (potentially) superior attention-getting tools of print and television advertising?”

    Think of it this way: Graphic design and advertisement design are the latest product of a couple of century’s worth of ad hoc research into what compels people. Especially relevant is that these media have had a chance to figure out how to compel people without also annoying them. Good TV commercials, for instance, are actually watched by some people as shorts; they are as much part of the entertainment product as the so-called content.

    Not so with mobile. Mobile ads may be apposite (arriving at the right time and place to a degree impossible with traditional media), but they are frequently resented. It’s sort of like that old Douglas Adams bit about an incredible starship powered by bad news, that gets you anywhere you want to be, but no one wants you there when you arrive.

  • Christopher Smith

    That’s the state today. Ad revenues *always* trail the trend. Time will tell. I suspect we’ll find that a lot of what is being done with mobile advertising isn’t working well right now… but we’ll also figure out what does, and whatever that is is going to grow like crazy.

  • wtpayne

    Mobile sucks as a medium for displaying ads … but is a fantastic platform for data collection & surveillance of the target audience. You gotta buy the mobile ads to track the consumer, but once you are tracking him, you have to make the sale on some other channel; whether as a display ad, or via direct mail, or whatever. The trick is to tie the mobile user to his desktop PC, work address, home address and phone number.

  • Peter Noel Murray

    The fallacy of this and similar analyses stems from the fact that meaning of the word ‘advertising’ is too broad. Brand image advertising and retail promotions both count as advertising, but each requires different media characteristics to be effective.

    Consider that the 100 leading national advertisers account for roughly 70% of total U.S. advertising. The bulk of spending by this category of advertiser is directed toward brand and corporate image. Response to this type of advertising is based primarily on emotion. Research consistently shows emotion to be the primary driver of measures like purchase intent as well as actual sales. Studies also show the superior ability of print and television to communicate emotion – and the inability of digital, especially mobile, to do so.

    From this perspective, Meeker’s chart shows spending allocation to print to be about right, too little investment in television, and way too much money chasing the inflated hype of digital.

  • Clayton DeKorne

    And are you sure that users aren’t just spending a lot of time trying to get content on their phones? All apps aren’t equal, and app development for content sites still has a long way to go. I’m not sure users always understand what they are getting as they struggle and probe their content apps. With television or print, readers are very facile at absorbing information. With mobile, I think a lot aren’t sure how to find what they want yet … but willing to spend time learning.