When it comes to professional ads, print makes its comeback

“People are still reading journals — they're still effective,” says Art Wilschek, executive director, advertising sales at the New England Journal of Medicine. Photo credit: David Edwards/Creative Commons

The print journal business is a bit like the fourth hour of a Bruce Springsteen concert: No one expected it to go on this long, but they're glad it did. And, somehow, the longer it continues, the stronger the performance becomes.

This is not the desperate, slanted rhetoric of traditional publishers looking through print-tinted specs. On the contrary, print's resurgence is thoroughly legitimized by the latest industry numbers.

See also: Which brands spent the most of professional ads in 2015?

Medical-surgical print journal spending in 2015 was up 8.4% to $372 million, according to data from Kantar Media, building on similar gains a year ago and inching closer to 2011's modern-day peak of $405 million. Concurrently, the total number of medical-surgical print ad pages in 2015 rose by 7.9% to 64,547.

While these numbers describe only the print components of the business, there's every reason to believe they're indicative of a rising tide across the gamut of channels.

“Everything that we're doing is basically trending upward,” notes Lori Raskin, corporate director, research and communications, at Frontline Medical Communications and 2016 president of the Association of Medical Media (AMM). “Publishers have embraced the technologies and have continually expanded their offerings. And while there is no [comparison] data available, it's safe to say that non-print revenues have increased, too.”

See also: Medical publishers eye new ad viewability rules

Raskin believes the majority of publishers have “stepped up” and invested heavily in the digital transformation of their businesses.

“Once you learn to embrace technology, you can serve the needs of your readers in their preferred learning formats,” she adds, noting that Frontline's content is available across all mobile platforms and devices. “At the same time, we're able to deliver timely and relevant advertising or educational messages through these channels.”


Of course, success is always dependent in large part on new drug approvals. Last year the FDA approved 45 new drugs, eclipsing 2014's total of 41. That sum represents the most approvals since 1996, when there were 53.

“New launches benefited a few markets,” explains Fran Magdziak, VP client services, healthcare research, at Kantar Media. She notes that Boehringer Ingelheim's Stiolto (for COPD) gave a boost to pulmonary disease publications (up 17%), while AbbVie's Viekira Pak (hepatitis C) did the same to the gastroenterology (up 15%) and infectious disease (up 6%) markets.

“Corlanor [Amgen, for chronic heart failure], Savaysa [Daiichi Sankyo, blood thinner], and Viekira Pak also had a significant presence online, demonstrating a reliance on both print and online to establish their brands,” Magdziak reports.

Other markets didn't fare as well in 2015. OB-GYN declined by 45%, with estrogens and oral contraceptive advertising falling off the radar (down 349 pages against the year-ago period) and replaced to a lesser extent with ads for HPV testing (up 79 pages). Similarly, the urology market took a 32% hit.

“Viagra, which had nearly 10% of the pages in 2014, was nowhere to be found in print and was present on only three professional healthcare websites,” Magdziak notes.

Raskin remains unperturbed by such fluctuations.

“Markets are cyclical, so there's always that swing,” she confirms. “Publishers like us have that depth and breadth of portfolio — some of those markets are down and some of those markets are up, and by double digits.”

Apart from new product approvals, Raskin says other factors helping to propel the print markets include a spate of cover tips, multisponsored supplements, and larger ad units for products with multiple indications.

On the company side, Johnson & Johnson maintained its position as the biggest print advertiser in 2015, despite cutting its spend by 13.5% to $30.1 million. Most of the decline can be attributed to Janssen halving its support of Invokana, 2014's most advertised product, to $7.9 million.

Meanwhile, an aggressive launch for Trulicity propelled Lilly from 11th place to second, with the diabetes treatment accounting for more than half of its $22.5 million print spend in 2015. Gilead shot up from seventh place to third, nearly doubling its spend to $20 million. The increase was spurred by an $11.5 million outlay in support of hep.-C treatment Harvoni, its successor to Sovaldi.

See also: Eli Lilly's diabetes drugs drive sales

Other notable increased print spenders include Amgen, Boehringer Ingelheim, Merck, and Shire. Amgen climbed from ninth place to fifth on the back of a 75% increase (to $15.8 million), thanks mainly to the launch of Corlanor for chronic heart failure. BI was up from 14th to eighth with a 59% increase (to $11.5 million), having supported COPD launch Stiolto to the tune of $3.1 million and doubled its Jardiance (diabetes) outlays to $5.8 million.

Meanwhile, Merck rose from 18th to 10th, jumping its spend 73% (to $10.8 million) on the back of a
$5 million outlay for melanoma–lung-cancer injection Keytruda. And Shire shot up from 25th to 12th on an increased spend of 146% to $9.6 million, the result of almost tripling its print support of ADHD treatment Vyvanse (to $7 million).

Make no mistake, print is still relevant.

“People are still reading journals — they're still effective,” says Art Wilschek, executive director, advertising sales at the New England Journal of Medicine. “Digital is important, too, but it hasn't replaced print.”

Wilschek should know. He led the New England Journal of Medicine sales effort in a spectacular year, which saw it knock rival the Journal of the American Medical Association off the top of the print charts on the back of a 35% increase in pages and a 22% hike in print dollars.

“We had our best year since at least 2001,” he beams. “A couple of years ago we [started] concentrating on six or seven specialties [within the main book], which we've done very well. And that's been the big difference.”

See also: 5 industry execs discuss how to harmonize healthcare campaigns

The New England Journal of Medicine hasn't relied solely on print, of course. Indeed, Wilschek states the brand has invested substantially in digital channels. At the same time, he notes that a major issue with website formats is the lack of inventory.

“We just can't serve enough ads,” he shrugs. “We get more orders than we have inventory. It's very difficult.”


Wilschek describes how the group painstakingly worked toward providing a better ad experience online without adversely affecting the reader experience.

“It wasn't a trade-off,” he shares. “It was a team effort across many different departments. We wanted to make sure that the editorial team was comfortable with what we did. We did many iterations and we got yelled at a lot.”

Wilschek notes that an even bigger issue is the lack of consistent comparison data across the professional online media space.

See also: Journal Ad Review: Back in the Mix

“Everybody has a different way of doing it and they can vary by 30% or so, which makes it crazy,” he continues. “The billing is almost impossible. You have 13 different companies measuring viewability and everybody's using a different vendor. So if you're an ad agency and you want to play the game, you take the one with the lowest number so you have to pay the lowest amount.”

In fact, the AMM recently held a meeting on viewability in which the different parties came together to debate the issues. Wilschek says the session was a valuable springboard for discussion, but that the parties have to come up with meaningful measurements of viewability.

“If everybody stands their ground, nobody's going to win,” he warns. “Eventually it will hurt both [publishers and clients] if we don't find some common ground.”

Wilschek sees the viewability issue as publishers' great­est challenge in the year ahead. But on the plus side, at least print markets are looking stable once more.

“Before, you would often hear the product manager saying, ‘Oh, print's dead.' I don't hear that as much now,” he reports. “I think people realize you need print, digital, and all forms of promotion. Every doctor has a different profile. A lot read both print and digital.”

See also: Pharma turns to mobile, population data to market to docs

To that point, a Kantar Media Sources & Interactions study from September 2015 showed that while online and apps are growing in importance with physicians under 35, medical print journals continue to rank highly — in both importance and reach — to physicians of all ages.

“Physicians turn to a mix of professional portals, apps, and print journals for their information,” Magdziak says.

Raskin, for her part, believes publishers can look to the future with optimism.

“The year ahead looks bright. In fact, the next few years look bright,” she notes. “The reports we've seen show that the industry is going to experience growth. Medical publishing has weathered the storm. We're content creators and we know the needs of our readers.”

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