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The constant announcements about the death of print media may be premature, but there is little doubt that traditional print media companies have been some of the hardest hit in the past decade as digital media has taken much of the spotlight.

And the hits keep coming: eMarketer says adults in the United States are now spending more time using their mobile devices than they are consuming print media.

According to eMarketer, adult U.S. consumers have spent an average of 65 minutes per day using their mobile devices to consume media this year, up from 50 minutes per day in 2010 and 39 minutes per day in 2009. That makes sense: not only has smart phone penetration increased substantially in the past several years, mobile devices have become much better equipped as media consumption tools.

At the same time, print media's ability to attract attention continues to wane. This year, adults in the U.S. spent 26 minutes per day reading newspapers and 18 minutes per day perusing magazines. Those figures have declined steadily every year since 2008.

On the surface, this trend obviously doesn't look good for traditional media companies. But how bad is it really? The answer: perhaps not as bad as it looks.

While many newspapers and magazines have their work cut out for them remaining relevant and finding profitable business models, few have opted to remain print-only. In fact, it's hard to think of many established newspapers or magazines that haven't built up some sort of digital operation.

Those active in digital can look at eMarketer's figures in one of two ways. They can fret about the shrinking pie their core (or once-core) offering must compete for. Or they can recognize that mobile devices are creating new opportunities to build strong multichannel media brands and adjust their strategies to take advantage of them.

Here, however, some prudence is advisable. As eMarketer notes, "the amount of ad spending going toward digital does not yet reflect the amount of time consumers have invested in these areas of their lives. Mobile, for example, has a more than 10% share of adults’ media time each day, but less than 1% of ad dollars, eMarketer estimates. On the flip side, newspapers and magazines continue to command ad dollars far ahead of their importance in consumers’ day."

Many if not most industry observers expect a shift at some point which will 'correct' this, but being ahead of the curve can be tough. Savvy print publishers should therefore balance their desire to embrace mobile with the reality that monetization opportunities may be limited initially.

At the same time, they'll also recognize that selling print ads at a premium will eventually become more difficult as eyeballs continue to move to new mediums, and start making plans accordingly.

Patricio Robles

Published 13 December, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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