Why Print Advertising Is A Waste Of Money For Authors

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You won’t be surprised to hear that the sales of physical newspapers and magazines are in decline. General sales of magazines in the USA dropped by 12% in the first half of 2014.

We all know why this is happening.

We are swapping newspapers for news websites and downloading magazines onto our phones. Naturally, this will affect anyone who is trying to promote anything using print advertising.

Print can be a tempting solution for authors. There is a sense of validation in seeing your book physically advertised in a newspaper or magazine. But as with any marketing decision, whether or not you should use print adverts to promote your book should be a purely financial decision.

The per reader cost of print adverts seems relatively cheap and it requires very little maintenance once the advert has been published (in comparison to social media advertising which needs constant updating).

For those reasons, it’s completely understandable that you might be tempted to place an advert in a newspaper or magazine and sit back and watch the sales roll in.

The only problem is, it doesn’t work like that.

What’s so bad about print advertising?

While you might be dazzled by the headline numbers – The New York Times has a circulation of 670,000 – the actual number of people who will end up noticing an individual advert is a lot smaller than that. Added to that is the fact that you need to run an advert a few times to make sure that the maximum number of people see it.

Even then, the people who do, probably aren’t in a book store or surfing Amazon while reading your advert. That adds a few layers of difficulty between someone seeing an advert and actually buying your book.

Unless the book is something they can’t live without the chances of that happening are very low.

Does this sound familiar?

I put an advert in XYZ newspaper for $XXXX,XX but NOTHING came of it, the only people who even said that they saw it were my partner/my parents/my friends.

Print adverts become more effective when you buy lots of them as part of a blanket coverage approach. That’s why bestseller book launches see adverts for that book in every newspaper or magazine around, as well as on outdoor ads and websites while combining with the major book retailers to buy premium placement in the stores.

But, doing this is expensive and it’s not practical or possible for everyone. And so, buying a solitary print advert is generally a waste of money.

That’s why you as an author should stick to marketing your books using digital means. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Digital marketing is low cost

It costs nothing to make a Facebook author page or update your Twitter account, so what do you have to lose? For this reason alone, I would recommended at least testing out social media so that you can see for yourself how effective it can be.

It doesn’t cost a lot of money to get a professionally designed author website with a built in blog, and that combined with an email list can be a powerful ongoing source of book sales.

2. You can engage directly with your readers

Digital marketing creates great opportunities to have two-way conversations and directly engage your readers; this allows you to learn exactly what it is your readers care about.

Do you remember the last time you were reading an advert for the latest Dan Brown book and he magically appeared out of nowhere to have a chat with you about it? I didn’t think so. But thanks to website chat technology you can actually do that when readers visit your website.

3. It’s quicker and easier to get a sale

Online, you can send prospective book buyers directly to your selling page. If you’re anything like me you won’t be a stranger to the occasional impulse buy, think about this from your customer’s perspective: they’ve read about your book, they’ve liked what they’ve seen. If you provide them with a way of purchasing it within minutes, and with very little effort, your chances of making a sale will be dramatically increased.

Print advertising, as mentioned above, demands a little more patience and effort on the reader’s part. Your potential reader will have to notice your advert, remember it, then make their way to a book store to look for it. People are lazy and, more often than not, print demands too much effort from the consumer.

4. You can track the results of your book marketing spend

Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.
– John Wanamaker

How can you possibly know how many readers have acknowledged your print advert? With online advertising methods you can track everything in great detail. For example; you can see how many people have viewed your advert, you can see how many have clicked on it and then, on your website, you can see how many people actually bought your book after clicking on that advert.

This means you can see exactly how much money you made compared to the amount you spent. This analysis opens up a world of insight into your audience’s behavior, and it’s something you would be missing out on if you depend on print promotion.

Let’s accept that in today’s world, digital marketing is the way to go. But there are other limitations to print advertising for independent authors beyond their digital competitors.

No control

You may be under the impression that you’ll be placing your ad directly opposite that popular weekly column on science fiction authors; sadly this will not be the case. In almost all print publications, you will have to pay premium rates to have any influence over the placement of your ad.



Print is often referred to as a cheap advertising method. However, if you want to create good quality looking ads, which don’t compromise your creative integrity, you’ll be looking to hire an advertising agency to do the creative work for you; this can become expensive.

Print is also only cheap when you look at it on a per-reader basis. How many of the newspaper’s readers are actually going to read the page with your advert on it? Probably a lot less than you’d think.


Look around a busy park, a subway carriage or a bus stop. Are the majority of people reading papers and magazines, or are they on their phones? Where are you really going to reach maximum exposure?

It’s not all bad

Despite knowing the multiple downfalls of print advertising for independent authors, it’s imperative that you know both sides of the story before making a decision.

The advantages of print advertising for authors

Everyone wants to achieve different things from their marketing. Whilst print has its share of disadvantages for authors, there are also some great advantages. So it’s only fair that we cover a few of them too.

1. Build respect in your local community

Most national publications print local editions. This means that you can print an advert for your book in a national magazine, but only have to pay for the distribution to one ZIP code.

This is great because most consumers won’t know about this and will perceive you as being more established, thinking that you are advertising at a national level.

You can print an advert for your book in a national magazine, but only pay for local distribution.Click To Tweet

2. Reach your niche

print-advertising-for-authors-2Working with print specifically targets readers who are already reading a publication in a similar genre or style to your own books. For example, if you are a sci-fi author, you can publish your print ads in sci-fi magazines.

Some magazines will have a very specific target audience reading them; this will benefit the ad’s efficiency if you fit into their niche interest.

For certain authors, advertising in highly targeted publications can be profitable.

Imagine you’ve written a guide on buying used cars, advertise that in a motoring magazine and you might just turn a profit.

3. Tracking isn’t impossible

You can add special coupons to print ads, which can be used in your online store. This way you can judge the success of the campaign on the amount of coupons used to buy your books.

4. You’re not fighting for attention

The average online customer will have ten different windows open, be simultaneously texting their friends, and watching TV.

When consumers are reading however, their newspaper or magazine tends to receive their undivided attention. These readers will often shut out, or switch off, other distractions. This gives print a great advantage over digital in that print readers will take-in and retain the advertising information far more successfully than digital consumers.

The verdict?

Print advertising can have its advantages, however I think it is a waste of money for the vast majority of authors. Large publishers can afford to publish ads in the same magazine week after week, build strong brand images and familiarity with the general public. However, as an author your time is precious and should be spent on the most time effective, and cash effective, methods available to you.

In my opinion, having a strong website and blog, supported with various social media channels should be more than enough to build a large following, without having to invest a large amount of money.

Do you have any experience with print advertising? What’s your preferred method of promoting yourself? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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