but – what about print?

Today, thanks to desktop publishing, four color printing has never been cheaper, crisper, smarter or easier. It also finds itself nearly shipwrecked in channel after channel, helping to drag down the US Post Office along the way.

The June, 2007 issue of Motorcycle Product News ran 108 pages including covers. By March, 2010, the pages had shrunk – along with staff and editorial budget – to 56 and counting. This isn’t to pick on venerable MPN, long a staple in the powersports community – they’re just one among thousands of titles facing real issues of survival. It’s more an open question of what happens next to the communications infrastructure when fading advertising revenue can’t sustain the hard costs print publishing requires.

(Not) On Newstands Now – The Death of One To Many

Just this week, the Motorcycle Industry Council posted the latest round of dismal (-37% overall in 2009) sales numbers, numbers that Guido Ebert commented on in his blog post here. A new aftermarket manufacturer tries to line up new dealers through the Powersports Group on LinkedIn here (requires access). There’s a pattern emerging, but colors and sizes aren’t exactly clear.

What is clear: powersports aftermarket manufacturers, primarily dependent on OEMs for their base and having all but abandoned print advertising, are now hamstrung by a lack of web savvy, an aversion to web marketing and an inability to communicate that renders them invisible to a dealer network that has yet to evolve a web search strategy capable of bridging the gap between a shrinking business print press and a business web press still in the crawling stage.

The argument over print production versus web is over. Web won. But as of yet there’s been little attempt to develop a practical alternative that preserves a qualified editorial presence capable of or willing to function in a digital space. Among many woes is the explosion of individual commenters, for better or worse, siphoning off measureable readership necessary to support rates, at least by traditional audit methods.

So Tell Me – Who Is The Messenger?

What’s emerging is a patchwork of finger-in-the-dike approaches to maintaining a viable market presence by the trade titles traditionally associated with the heavy lifting. There isn’t one magazine that isn’t reeling in the web’s backwash, and for marketeers who have always counted on dependable avenues of communication the implications are not good.

What seems inevitable is that the line between consumer and trade journalism will continue to blur, like the line between online only retailers and traditional brick and mortar stores. Marketeers will, for the time being at least, be forced into self-publishing – not their strongest suit by any stretch – to deliver their message to their audience. Consumers, already adapting to hybrid shopping patterns that include print catalogs, banner ads, magnet malls and online mega-retail sites like Amazon and Zappos, will evolve product discovery methods across multiple platforms.

In a nutshell, it seems the aftermarket will have to confront a new shopping paradigm that features ease of consumer discovery at the apex, or else risk being pulled completely under by a whirlpool of internet jabber that for now defies easy parsing.