I’m a fitness enthusiast and a poker player. While I’m better at the former than the latter, I’m always looking to improve my game. Before stepping onto the elliptical machine for some cardio recently, I downloaded a favorite poker podcast. The subject: folding your cards too early can be a mistake and cost you money.

The message was essentially this: fear and failure to commit can lead to a loss of opportunity as circumstances evolve.

Or something like that.

As an owner of and a supplier to newsmedia companies, I related this lesson to the legacy newspaper—specifically, to the traditional print product.

I question whether many of us are “folding too early” on our print business. Are we relinquishing opportunity for audience and revenue growth by moving too far too fast away from print?

Many prognosticators suggest that the opposite is true—that if we fail to move away from print ASAP, our business is a risk. I’m not so sure.

Let me be clear—I am NOT a print apologist. While I believe the future of the newsmedia is bright, I am “platform agnostic.” I don’t believe we must decree how audiences consume our content. Thus, I have been critical of an uncompromising “digital first” mandate for the legacy newsmedia company. Instead, we must think CUSTOMER FIRST—and be relevant in content, in timing and in channel.

To get to the point, here are four reasons for integrating print as an essential component of a diverse, multi-platform strategy:

Print audiences are vital sources of data and revenue—data that enables relevance, and revenue that funds other strategic initiatives.
Print audiences are a source of customers for other offline and online products.
The ability to offer advertising solutions that can be integrated and optimized across multiple platforms offers a compelling proposition to advertisers vis-à-vis single channel providers.
Print advertising works.

Regarding this last point, I am an admirer of Alan Mutter (newsosaur.blogspot.comEditor’s note: Alan also writes a monthly column in E&P). I don’t always agree with him, but he makes me think. Alan recently referenced a study by eMarketer citing an interesting statistic: the amount of ad dollars by medium divided by the amount of time spent with each. The result: In 2014, advertisers spent $.83 per minute to reach print readers—and only $.07 per minute to reach mobile users. Alan argues that “markets abhor this sort of inefficiency”—and that further migration of ad dollars from print to mobile is imminent.

I agree that the downward trend in print spending is likely to continue—but I certainly disagree with the characterization of the print/mobile dichotomy as “inefficient.” The fact is that for today at least, print works. There are advertisers willing to tolerate the higher investment associated with print because the ROI is superior to what they would get elsewhere. As Alan implies, the markets are rationale, and people will spend their money where the return is highest.

The situation will continue to evolve. Mobile advertising—particularly location-based applications—will become more sophisticated and, ultimately, more effective. But for today—and for the near future—print produces a superior result for many advertisers. Perhaps most importantly, an integrated communications portfolio that includes a variety of print, digital, mobile and other multichannel solutions for advertisers offers a competitive positioning that is unique in the media.

In conclusion, putting any platform first—whether print, digital or other—is, IMHO, misguided unless the business is built ground-up for that specific platform. Such a proviso is not the case for the legacy newspaper company. Instead, a thoughtful, progressive transformation to an agile, platform agnostic media enterprise that delivers relevance and value to consumers, and optimized, multichannel solutions to the merchant community, is the path to a sustainable future.

Tom Ratkovich is the managing partner of LEAP Media Solutions and can be reached at tom.ratkovich@leapmediasolutions.com.

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