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Is There a Place for Print?

The Long Tail Windowslivewriter Newspapers

Chart courtesy of Gawker

Might print be a place to achieve long-term branding success?

While newspapers’ readership and revenue are declining, people are still reading them – especially local newspapers (and weeklies in my market).

I was meeting with a friend and local print-media publisher earlier this week, and he told me that I am so far ahead of where the general consumer is that I should at least consider advertising in his publication. He wasn’t explicitly trying to sell me (we’re better friends than that) but encouraging me to reconsider my position – that print is a waste of money without a reasonable means by which to track ROI. But how does one track infiltration into the public consciousness?

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Not being a marketer by trade, I don’t know the answer. (Local) Print seems to be best for those with ginormous budgets seeking to brand themselves and their companies using large outlays of cash over a long period of time. As the market downturn continues, Realtors drop out and (hopefully) the cost to advertise in print publications declines – is now the time to jump in and negotiate long-term deals for print?

There is potentially real opportunity to be had (per Chris Anderson):

The truth is that the newspaper business is still a huge industry and will be around in one form or another for the rest of my life. That is not to dismiss the declines, but only to note that there’s still a lot of money there and what is required is strategic change, not giving up the ghost.

My opinion is that the weekly real estate rags don’t sell houses – ads brand the Realtors – and it’s harder and harder to differentiate your product (the house in most cases) from the other thousand 2×2-sometimes-grainy-text-limited-ads smushed together on a page. But – branding in other publications to drive traffic to good content – the blog – could be the means to increase (loyal) visitors, subscribers, and ultimately transactions.

Why did they visit your site?
Because they saw your ad in X publication.

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Written By

Dad, Husband, Charlottesville Realtor, real estate Blogger, occasional speaker - Inman Connects, NAR Conferences - based in Charlottesville, Virginia. A native Virginian, I graduated from VMI in 1998, am a third generation Realtor (since 2001) and have been "publishing" as a real estate blogger since January 2005. I've chosen to get involved in Realtor Associations on the local, state & national levels, having served on the NAR's RPR & MLS groups. Find me in Charlottesville, Crozet and Twitter.



  1. Bill Lublin

    April 2, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    Jim: You really got me on this one – I thought you were the guy who didn’t read the magazines 😉
    I think you make a good point about branding as a use for press, as well as a place to let people know how to find you electronically – We try to avoid the newspaper and use the magazines for branding – they tend to stay around a little longer and we get (in a very urban area) a lot more ink for the dollar- However we are shifting our spending as a company to syndication of our listings, pay per click, and some other electronic initiatives to increase our presence in the market – You might want to read the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing – Number 22 is The law of Resources which says,”without adequare funding an idea won;t get off the ground” – So before you go to print be sure you’re picking a fight you can support for a period of time 🙂

  2. Daniel, the Real Estate Zebra

    April 2, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    Bill Says: So before you go to print be sure you’re picking a fight you can support for a period of time.

    That is an excellent point.

    Since Jim and I are in the exact same market, I know the publications of which he speaks. After having met and spoken with REALTORS all over the country, I am of the opinion that the cost of marketing in most of our local publications is much higher than what some others are paying for even broader exposure.

    We have cut back on our print advertising because of the ROI. The investment cost is so high that it makes getting a decent return difficult. I think that there is efficacy in print advertising, but if the investment cost is too high, the whole argument is moot. There is a return on your investment when advertising in print, but it has to be measured against the initial investment (duh). In our market, those initial investments can be pretty darn high.

  3. Jack A

    April 2, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    Basically, the chart is close to our market trend. Round off the spike on the early 2000’s…

  4. ines

    April 2, 2008 at 4:43 pm

    Rick and I stopped almost all of our print marketing because it was getting us no results, that is… quantifiable results. But we are aware that it is also a matter of exposure and perception. Nothing beats being in front of the consumer’s face on a regular basis and that’s what print marketing does.

    As for the cost – unbelievably enough, prices have not dropped in Miami. We used to have a great ad in a Sunday Neighbor’s section of our local big newspaper and they tripled our price!! Needless to say, we pulled out.

    I’d love to get a one page add in OceanDrive or Home Miami…….but it’s prohibitive.

  5. Jim Duncan

    April 2, 2008 at 8:35 pm

    That’s just it – to be successful in print, I think you have to take a multi-year approach – like three to five – and that’s an insurmountable cost for many.

  6. Bob

    April 2, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    The readership of the regional paper here is down by over 50% during the week and 35% on weekends. The costs haven’t dropped – they’ve gone up.

    Branding is a tricky thing to do and what worked in our market during the go-go years isn’t working as much now.

    I’ve killed all print marketing. My ability to leverage the web and target my audience pays off 1000x more than any print advertising.

  7. John Lauber

    April 3, 2008 at 7:12 am

    I too am scaling back my print, though I haven’t really done a lot due to cost. Even with a shared ad in our Sunday local paper, the return hasn’t been there for me. When our year runs out, I’m bowing out.

    The only other “print” I’ll have at that point will be my kids school folders and homework books. Parents see it almost every night. I haven’t seen the return with that either, but that’s a 3-5 year item (mentioned earlier) I think is worth the price.

  8. Jim Duncan

    April 6, 2008 at 9:51 am

    Interesting update – I just talked to a Realtor in my market who said that in the past five weeks, thanks to her print advertising, she has gotten seven listings (and she’s a good agent). As much as I hate to admit it, that kind of evidence is enough to make me reconsider some things … it’s important that she didn’t advertise in the weekly real estate rag either – mainly the daily newspaper and weekly housing inserts.

  9. ines

    April 6, 2008 at 10:03 am

    Jim, there’s a local agent that produces a book with all of his listings and he get most of the local business because of the book – he must be spending at least $5,000/month and is doing great. Funny thing is that he doesn’t sell those listings because of the book, he gets listings because of the book. The consumer has this false sense of …..let me be on the cover this month!! I do think print media needs to reach a happy medium of getting business and achieving results for your customers.

  10. Kelley Koehler

    April 6, 2008 at 1:07 pm

    Jim – re your comment #9: this is what kills me about print. It gets her business. Does it sell her listings? Advertise the heck out of yourself in print if you want to get business, I don’t care. But don’t tell your sellers that you’re doing it to sell the home – unless that’s your experience that print works in that manner. It’s like virtual tours (another pet peeve of mine). In the numbers I pulled from my own MLS, homes with virutal tours didn’t sell any faster or for more money on average, but everyone says “sellers expect it.” It’s not my job to do what someone expects, it’s my job to know what works, tell you what works, and then do it.


  11. Jim Duncan

    April 6, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    @Kelley –

    You make two excellent points –

    1) The print ads don’t sell the listings.
    2) Sellers see the ads and think that that means she’s an effective Realtor (in this case she is, but not b/c of the print ads)

    Do print ads sell listings? Doubtful. Do sellers think they do? It seems so. How to bridge that obvious gap? I have no idea, but it’s quite the Catch-22.

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