Why Circ-Based Measurement Is Anachronistic
by Rebecca McPheters
Current systems of magazine measurement, both circulation and audience, are simply not up to the task of offering documentation of performance and accountability comparable to electronic media. When advertisers know the next day how their television and Internet ad buys perform, it is in magazines' best interest to find a way to provide comparable levels of accountability. And accountability is a good thing for magazines. While there is no question that better accountability measures will not show that every print ad is effective (after all, the medium can only bring the message to an appropriate audience, the creative also has a key role in advertising effectiveness), learning more about what works and what doesn't will improve the ability of advertisers to provide magazines with compelling print ads.
How a Web-Based Service Can Help
For these reasons, we have introduced readership.com, which will offer issue-specific audience measurement for 200 consumer magazines, four magazines distributed through newspapers, and three national newspapers. In addition to measuring the size and characteristics of these audiences, on-going information on the accumulation of these audiences and their engagement with the publications measured will be tracked;much as Nielsen does for television. Two separate batteries of engagement measures are asked of those who have read one or more issues of a title. These relate to how they read the publication, thoroughness of reading, where they read it, source of copy, actions taken, and a variety of attitudinal statements, as well as whether they have also visited the magazine's Web site. Through a Web-based interface, subscribers sign on and identify the titles and time period they are interested in, then select specific issues. They will see information on these audiences (level, profiles, engagement) and also will have the option of seeing accumulation data. Publishers have access to the service but do not upload data to it.
Timely, granular, issue-by-issue information comparable to that of other media will make it easier for print to compete effectively for a larger share of media allocations. Advertisers will know sooner how a buy compares with what they actually got. This is critical for marketers to be comfortable with spending appreciably more in print. And by providing readily available inputs for market mix models, advertisers will be better able to understand the ability of print to contribute to their objectives;and publishers will be better able to document the value of print to the advertiser. Lastly, by making audience accumulation an integral part of the data that advertisers see, they will become increasingly aware of the pitifully low weight levels typically given to their print schedules. Of almost equal importance is that it will provide both the focus and the tools needed for publishers, editors and consumer marketers to focus on delivering the best audiences possible;increasing the value they are able to offer advertisers. The best antidote to commoditization is to a) deliver and b) document real value.
A Web-based service like this can provide the vehicle the industry has needed to shift focus away from the anachronistic measure of value represented by circulation and toward the proof of editorial resonance and appropriate distribution strategies found in audience. We think it will provide a basis for new business models. Our early favorite is a broadcast-like model, where publishers guarantee audiences across multiple issues of multiple titles. Because it will provide immediate feedback on the performance of individual issues, editors will be able to respond more quickly to changes in the marketplace. This offers the potential for better, more finely honed editorial products;and, because better products will resonate to a greater extent among consumers, stronger magazine audiences. Lastly, consumer marketers will be able to focus on audience development. While current systems have made it difficult to read the effects of changes in audience management strategies in less than 18 months, our new system will allow circulators to see much sooner whether changes in strategy have the desired impact and to quickly redirect copies to more productive sources and outlets if needed.
Rebecca McPheters is president of McPheters & Company, a New York-based firm which specializes in serving the needs of the publishing and advertising communities regarding metrics relating to audience, distribution, and advertising effectiveness.