Influencing Potential of Print and Social Media

Some time ago I posted an article on this blog titled “Are Printed Publications Relevant in an Online World?” wherein I expressed my view that a printed publication like a magazine is far more effective than an online publication like a blog because it manages to get the undivided attention of the reader. This post is my attempt to figure out which kind of media is more effective when you look at the larger picture.

Print publications often brag about the size of their readership, usually a few thousands. My guess is that even the most popular blogs do not come close that those kinds of numbers. Quite simply because I get the feeling that the number of people that read blogs may be only a low multiple of the number that write them. I have no way of knowing for sure, but my feeling is that there are only a few of us who are all crazy about blogs and other forms of social media like Twitter, Facebook, etc. This is not to say that this number will not grow. It definitely will over time. And that’s the reason we often hear people say “social media is not there yet”.

Last night I was Googling for some information regarding some hardware that I needed for the office and went looking for reviews. As I was reading along I happened to notice that some of the stuff I was reading was months and even years old. Google tries to give you the latest information. But other factors such as link popularity, page rank, etc, get in the way and you end up being served all kinds of stuff from different points in time. This means that the stuff people write in cyberspace stays there till kingdom come, or at least till someone replaces the internet with something else.

Now think about this. When a printed magazine lands in your hands, you end up reading it and maybe pass it along to a couple of more people. And after that it ends up in the trash can. That’s how short the life span of a magazine is and the information that resides in it. Now compare an article in a magazine with say an article on a blog on the same topic. The blog post is here to stay. The magazine article dies in a month or two. The blog post is actually indexed by search engines for relevant key words and is kept ready to be served to anyone on the planet with an internet connection. And that too for many years, if not forever.

I do happen to know a bit about the CAD software and where to find unbiased or biased but useful information about it. So that makes me a person who can sniff out the information I need. But I do not really know much about hardware and am not a big fan of hardware related blogs. Neither do I subscribe to hardware magazines. So that makes me the equivalent of a CAD user who simply uses CAD software for his work but really does not bother himself with knowing where to find the right information. So when the times comes for him to actually find information on something, he turns to something like Google. He follows the links on the first page or maybe the second and makes his opinion on whatever was served to him. I did exactly that last night during my quest for information on the hardware that I was interested in.

I said earlier that only a few of us read and write blogs. But almost everyone uses a search engine to find information. So this means that online publications like blogs have the potential of influencing a much larger amount of people over time, not just a few thousand that printed magazines influence for a month or two. I get the feeling that PR and Marketing people have begun to realize this and that is why we are seeing a marked shift in the way they have been treating bloggers.

If you compare a well written article in a magazine using excellent prose and beautiful screenshots with a blog post with spelling mistakes written by someone in a hurry to do something else, I believe the effect of the former maybe greater in the short run (a month or two maximum), but the effect of the blog post only grows over time. Can you imagine how many page views the blog post will get in its entire lifetime? It hard to put a number especially when you don’t know whether the life span has an upper limit. With the magazine article its easy to figure out the number of page views – the number of issues printed multiplied by say a factor of 2 or 3. Or maybe more, I don’t know.

And here is the best part. The more the blog post is viewed, the greater is the chance that it will get viewed again since it moves up the search engine index. The more other people link to it, the more it will be viewed, since its page rank increases and shows higher in search engine listings. On the other hand, the magazine article is gone long before the blog post has even started to make its mark. My point is that the influencing potential of a good blog post only grows with time. The influencing potential of a good magazine article (or a not-so-good one) is reduced to zero on the same day it lands in a trash can.

All this is besides the point that the influence of the printed magazine is restricted to the people in the geographical area to whom it gets mailed. You cannot forward a link to a page on a printed magazine to someone half way across the globe. There is no way to search for information in a printed magazine after it reaches the trash can. This is severely contrasted by the fact that Google even has a Blog Search feature that searches only blogs.

When looking at the big picture, maybe we are grossly underestimating the potential of social media and possibly overestimating that of the print media. I’d like to hear your views on this, especially since at the current moment you are reading a blog.

  • “When looking at the big picture, maybe we are grossly underestimating the potential of social media and possibly overestimating that of the print media.”

    We?

  • “When looking at the big picture, maybe we are grossly underestimating the potential of social media and possibly overestimating that of the print media.”

    We?

  • Yes Evan, the same “we” I referred to when I said: “And that’s the reason we often hear people say “social media is not there yet”.”

    Is that the only thing in the entire post that you found to pick on? 😉

  • Yes Evan, the same “we” I referred to when I said: “And that’s the reason we often hear people say “social media is not there yet”.”

    Is that the only thing in the entire post that you found to pick on? 😉

  • Your post reminded me of one of my pet peeves when searching the ‘net for information: not being able to tell *when* something was published (or last updated, etc.). We hear a lot these days about adding geospatial metadata to images and information. That’s great, but first we should work on getting temporal metadata right.

    BTW, the indefinite lifetime of blog posts is one of the for me going back and reviewing past posts periodically to see if anything needs to be updated.

  • Your post reminded me of one of my pet peeves when searching the ‘net for information: not being able to tell *when* something was published (or last updated, etc.). We hear a lot these days about adding geospatial metadata to images and information. That’s great, but first we should work on getting temporal metadata right.

    BTW, the indefinite lifetime of blog posts is one of the for me going back and reviewing past posts periodically to see if anything needs to be updated.

  • Er, “one of the *motivations* for me going back…” (Typos and eternal internet archives make an interesting combination, eh?)

  • Er, “one of the *motivations* for me going back…” (Typos and eternal internet archives make an interesting combination, eh?)

  • I recognize your experience. One thing I have found useful lately is the ability to use the options to filter the result on “date/time” and also sort by “date”.

    Another thing I find myself using is the search functionality in Google Reader when I know I have read about something in a blog I follow and the search is limited to these blogs. I actually follow some blogs just for this purpose so I can at a later time also search easily on them.

  • I recognize your experience. One thing I have found useful lately is the ability to use the options to filter the result on “date/time” and also sort by “date”.

    Another thing I find myself using is the search functionality in Google Reader when I know I have read about something in a blog I follow and the search is limited to these blogs. I actually follow some blogs just for this purpose so I can at a later time also search easily on them.

  • Jimmy,

    True. Then there are times when you actually do not want the latest information, just the best that is out there. Google also gives you the option to show only “Reviews” and filter out the rest, since they recognized that people use Google a lot for getting product reviews. I just did review search for”SolidWorks” and the first page had reviews of SolidWorks 2008, 2009 and 2010.

    People use search engines in a variety of ways. And I believe Social Media seems to fit quite nicely with the way more and more people are using the internet.

  • Jimmy,

    True. Then there are times when you actually do not want the latest information, just the best that is out there. Google also gives you the option to show only “Reviews” and filter out the rest, since they recognized that people use Google a lot for getting product reviews. I just did review search for”SolidWorks” and the first page had reviews of SolidWorks 2008, 2009 and 2010.

    People use search engines in a variety of ways. And I believe Social Media seems to fit quite nicely with the way more and more people are using the internet.

  • Magazines tend to have _tens of_ thousands of readers; they cannot survive on just thousands. At its peak, CADalyst boasted 120,000 subscribers.

    FWIW, my blog has thousands of readers on weekdays (2,700 through feeds + another 1,000 direct.)

  • Magazines tend to have _tens of_ thousands of readers; they cannot survive on just thousands. At its peak, CADalyst boasted 120,000 subscribers.

    FWIW, my blog has thousands of readers on weekdays (2,700 through feeds + another 1,000 direct.)

  • Leslie Gordon

    Deelip

    Ralph G is right — at its peak, Machine Design had almost 190,000 readers. Even in this recession, we still have over 130,000.

    And you are forgetting something. Printed magazine now post many if not all of their articles online. So they should have as much “life” as any blog item.

    Cheers! 🙂

  • Leslie Gordon

    Deelip

    Ralph G is right — at its peak, Machine Design had almost 190,000 readers. Even in this recession, we still have over 130,000.

    And you are forgetting something. Printed magazine now post many if not all of their articles online. So they should have as much “life” as any blog item.

    Cheers! 🙂

  • Leslie,

    You just made my case 😉

    And speaking of “life” of matter in cyberspace, as any other blogger will agree, it is not uncommon for me to receive a comment on a post that I wrote many months or even years ago. Before I comment back (if I feel like it) I actually have to go back and read what I had written back then. But for the person who just commented, the information is fresh and interesting.

  • Leslie,

    You just made my case 😉

    And speaking of “life” of matter in cyberspace, as any other blogger will agree, it is not uncommon for me to receive a comment on a post that I wrote many months or even years ago. Before I comment back (if I feel like it) I actually have to go back and read what I had written back then. But for the person who just commented, the information is fresh and interesting.

  • A good coincidence. It just happened on Ralph’s blog. Take a look at this comment placed today:

    Link

    Ralph’s post is titled May 21st 2007. From the comment it appears that the reader is completely oblivious to the fact that that he is commenting on a post that is more than two years old.

    This shows the timeless nature of matter stored in cyberspace.

  • A good coincidence. It just happened on Ralph’s blog. Take a look at this comment placed today:

    Link

    Ralph’s post is titled May 21st 2007. From the comment it appears that the reader is completely oblivious to the fact that that he is commenting on a post that is more than two years old.

    This shows the timeless nature of matter stored in cyberspace.

  • We’re doing a lot of research into this very subject and it’s throwing up, even at an early stage, some very interesting things, interesting ideas and some oddities – make that a lot of oddities (things that are counter intuitive the first time you see them). I’ll share them when we get more data in.

    ONe thing I have been thinking about this is this. Websites measure pageviews and unique visitors. Magazine’s count readers. There’s a HUGE mismatch between the two metrics

    Now work out the pageviews of a magazine each month, assuming each copy is read once, by one reader (which isn’t the case at all as you’ve said) and binned (the majority keep magazines for much more than a couple of months) Then multiple that base level number by the distribution/readership.

    If you get close to my numbers, it’s interesting. Really. Interesting.

    Al

  • We’re doing a lot of research into this very subject and it’s throwing up, even at an early stage, some very interesting things, interesting ideas and some oddities – make that a lot of oddities (things that are counter intuitive the first time you see them). I’ll share them when we get more data in.

    ONe thing I have been thinking about this is this. Websites measure pageviews and unique visitors. Magazine’s count readers. There’s a HUGE mismatch between the two metrics

    Now work out the pageviews of a magazine each month, assuming each copy is read once, by one reader (which isn’t the case at all as you’ve said) and binned (the majority keep magazines for much more than a couple of months) Then multiple that base level number by the distribution/readership.

    If you get close to my numbers, it’s interesting. Really. Interesting.

    Al

  • Al,

    There maybe also something else worth noting. I believe that there is a major difference between the people who read an old issue of a magazine and those who end up on old blog post. In the case of the former, they most probably found the magazine lying around and are flipping through the pages. Or someone handed them the magazine for one particular article and are browsing through the others. Whereas in the case of the latter, they most probably are looking for exactly the same information that is given in the blog post because they entered a specific search phrase into a search engine that got them to the blog post.

    Note that I used “most probably” above. I have no way of knowing for sure. This is just me applying some common sense.

    My point is that people redirected to old blog posts by search engines may be more of a target audience for the author than people reading old issues of magazines.

  • Al,

    There maybe also something else worth noting. I believe that there is a major difference between the people who read an old issue of a magazine and those who end up on old blog post. In the case of the former, they most probably found the magazine lying around and are flipping through the pages. Or someone handed them the magazine for one particular article and are browsing through the others. Whereas in the case of the latter, they most probably are looking for exactly the same information that is given in the blog post because they entered a specific search phrase into a search engine that got them to the blog post.

    Note that I used “most probably” above. I have no way of knowing for sure. This is just me applying some common sense.

    My point is that people redirected to old blog posts by search engines may be more of a target audience for the author than people reading old issues of magazines.

  • I get your point, but it depends entirely on the magazine and the nature of their search criteria. One thing that occurs to me is that while the vast majority of older content gets lead to by google search, that, by itself, is very very explicit – the joy of magazines is that you can exactly that, browse, find something new, something interesting, that you might not typically have found anywhere else. The problem with so many blogs is that they are highly focussed on a subject – or in this industry, software community. There’s very little that spans things horizontally.

    Al

  • I get your point, but it depends entirely on the magazine and the nature of their search criteria. One thing that occurs to me is that while the vast majority of older content gets lead to by google search, that, by itself, is very very explicit – the joy of magazines is that you can exactly that, browse, find something new, something interesting, that you might not typically have found anywhere else. The problem with so many blogs is that they are highly focussed on a subject – or in this industry, software community. There’s very little that spans things horizontally.

    Al

  • Deelip,

    You make a clear distinction between “printed content” and “online content”. In my opinion, almost all “printed content” is online as well but not vice-versa. So, in that sense, the impact of “printed content” is more than “pure online” content.

    After “printed content” serves its purpose and hits the trash-can, its online version lives forever in cyberspace.

  • Deelip,

    You make a clear distinction between “printed content” and “online content”. In my opinion, almost all “printed content” is online as well but not vice-versa. So, in that sense, the impact of “printed content” is more than “pure online” content.

    After “printed content” serves its purpose and hits the trash-can, its online version lives forever in cyberspace.

  • Rakesh: “In my opinion, almost all “printed content” is online”

    There are printed magazines that do not show up online, either in part or in full.

    However, this is not about printed magazines and their corresponding online versions versus blogs. This is about the long term effectiveness of words/pictures on pager and those in cyberspace. Basically printed media and social media.

    We are seeing more and more printed publications going online or doing both. The opposite is not happening. This says something.

  • Rakesh: “In my opinion, almost all “printed content” is online”

    There are printed magazines that do not show up online, either in part or in full.

    However, this is not about printed magazines and their corresponding online versions versus blogs. This is about the long term effectiveness of words/pictures on pager and those in cyberspace. Basically printed media and social media.

    We are seeing more and more printed publications going online or doing both. The opposite is not happening. This says something.

  • Hi Deelip,

    I agree with you on the Printed with Online, I started my Blog on CAD – Autodesk Inventor, just as fun, but today the visitor traffic has made me serious to look forward in teaching more about Autodesk Inventor starting with basic, Believe it or not, I get to know the metrics too. I see that there are 6000+ page views on just how to install Inventor 2010.

    So, Blogs do make an impact and specifically the name too, CAD Professor as in my case.

  • Hi Deelip,

    I agree with you on the Printed with Online, I started my Blog on CAD – Autodesk Inventor, just as fun, but today the visitor traffic has made me serious to look forward in teaching more about Autodesk Inventor starting with basic, Believe it or not, I get to know the metrics too. I see that there are 6000+ page views on just how to install Inventor 2010.

    So, Blogs do make an impact and specifically the name too, CAD Professor as in my case.

  • Tony

    Deelip,
    Actually, for PC hardware reviews, check Newegg.com first, then Amazon.com (both have huge numbers of user reviews; for PC hardware, Newegg is well organized, unlike Amazon), then try google.

    Another point on tech info — a lot of it is still useful years later, especially for those who don’t follow the hype train.

  • Tony

    Deelip,
    Actually, for PC hardware reviews, check Newegg.com first, then Amazon.com (both have huge numbers of user reviews; for PC hardware, Newegg is well organized, unlike Amazon), then try google.

    Another point on tech info — a lot of it is still useful years later, especially for those who don’t follow the hype train.

  • Stan Przybylinski

    Magazines measure subscribers or copies printed/sold, not readers. Web pages measure page views, not readers. Both are imprecise measures.

    For instance, I now get Design News ONLY as a e-zine. What happens? I look at the Table of Contents, and only look at articles that happen to interest me. The ads don’t even get a click through.

    What do they count?

  • Stan Przybylinski

    Magazines measure subscribers or copies printed/sold, not readers. Web pages measure page views, not readers. Both are imprecise measures.

    For instance, I now get Design News ONLY as a e-zine. What happens? I look at the Table of Contents, and only look at articles that happen to interest me. The ads don’t even get a click through.

    What do they count?

  • Sunith,

    Like you I started this blog year ago as an experiment, that too without any goal in mind. Then it became something like a hobby to take my mind away from programming. Now this so called hobby has gone way out of hand. I now need to take time away from blogging to do programming 😉

  • Sunith,

    Like you I started this blog year ago as an experiment, that too without any goal in mind. Then it became something like a hobby to take my mind away from programming. Now this so called hobby has gone way out of hand. I now need to take time away from blogging to do programming 😉

  • Stan,

    You are right. Like Al said, these metrics (subscribers, prints, page views, etc.) just cannot be compared one on one with each other. This is makes it all the more difficult for marketing/PR people to figure out how to use their limited resources.

    I have always maintained that ads in online publications just do not have that kind of effect that ads in magazines. Readers have mastered the art of filtering out ads on a computer screen and concentrating only on the content. But every time I pick up a magazine, I do happen to notice and read the ads. Not sure exactly why. Maybe because I am not in a hurry to do ten other things in the ten other windows opened along what I am reading.

  • Stan,

    You are right. Like Al said, these metrics (subscribers, prints, page views, etc.) just cannot be compared one on one with each other. This is makes it all the more difficult for marketing/PR people to figure out how to use their limited resources.

    I have always maintained that ads in online publications just do not have that kind of effect that ads in magazines. Readers have mastered the art of filtering out ads on a computer screen and concentrating only on the content. But every time I pick up a magazine, I do happen to notice and read the ads. Not sure exactly why. Maybe because I am not in a hurry to do ten other things in the ten other windows opened along what I am reading.

  • Tony,

    Thanks for the tip.

  • Tony,

    Thanks for the tip.

  • A couple of people have already made the point that many print articles end up online, so I won’t stress the point that a well-written, insightful article is probably even more likely to end up higher-ranked on search engine results than a blog review.

    I think many journalists have known for a while that it is not a question of print or online, but both. Some have even bridged the gap, not just writing for both print and online publications, but also blogging. In the UK, for example, there are journalists on all most of the main construction weeklies (Building, Construction News, Contract Journal, Architects’ Journal, etc) who blog – and in many cases also Twitter – augmenting their journalistic output with more personal observations, often creating a loyal online following that wouldn’t be possible purely in a print medium.

    Of course, PR and marketing people are aware of this and they can use social media as an alternative/additional means of communication with journalists. They can – and do – sometimes also write their own blogs – and with the recession prompting sometimes savage cuts in advertising and other marketing budgets, social media is increasingly being seen, particularly by SMEs, as a cost-effective way to maintain some kind of market profile, or even to bypass magazines altogether and engage directly with customers online.

    I touched on these issues earlier today – http://pwcom.wordpress.com/2009/10/20/the-future-of-the-construction-media/ – after attending a London seminar on the future of the construction media last week. It was pointed out that online media could provide highly accurate metrics on page impressions and click-throughs that couldn’t be provided by print advertising, yet – and I quote – there remains something inherently enjoyable about flicking through a magazine (and a follow-up Tweet: “The best thing about magazines? They ‘boot up’ immediately“).

    Kind regards – Paul

  • A couple of people have already made the point that many print articles end up online, so I won’t stress the point that a well-written, insightful article is probably even more likely to end up higher-ranked on search engine results than a blog review.

    I think many journalists have known for a while that it is not a question of print or online, but both. Some have even bridged the gap, not just writing for both print and online publications, but also blogging. In the UK, for example, there are journalists on all most of the main construction weeklies (Building, Construction News, Contract Journal, Architects’ Journal, etc) who blog – and in many cases also Twitter – augmenting their journalistic output with more personal observations, often creating a loyal online following that wouldn’t be possible purely in a print medium.

    Of course, PR and marketing people are aware of this and they can use social media as an alternative/additional means of communication with journalists. They can – and do – sometimes also write their own blogs – and with the recession prompting sometimes savage cuts in advertising and other marketing budgets, social media is increasingly being seen, particularly by SMEs, as a cost-effective way to maintain some kind of market profile, or even to bypass magazines altogether and engage directly with customers online.

    I touched on these issues earlier today – http://pwcom.wordpress.com/2009/10/20/the-future-of-the-construction-media/ – after attending a London seminar on the future of the construction media last week. It was pointed out that online media could provide highly accurate metrics on page impressions and click-throughs that couldn’t be provided by print advertising, yet – and I quote – there remains something inherently enjoyable about flicking through a magazine (and a follow-up Tweet: “The best thing about magazines? They ‘boot up’ immediately“).

    Kind regards – Paul