Heard around the industry in the last few weeks, mostly in quiet conversations, but in increasing frequency: Is the magazine industry, in its troubled state, best served by two or more audit bureaus and two or more major industry associations?
In the case of the audit bureaus, the argument goes that with a declining membership for all audit agencies, there’s less need for two or more. In addition, it used to be that ABC served paid consumer magazines and BPA served non-paid b-to-b magazines. But that line has been blurred to the point that the distinction is almost meaningless. Now the key point of differentiation is that ABC has newspapers (good luck with that) and BPA has a significant international portfolio.
Also playing into the question for audit bureaus is that marketers are buying direct, in effect disintermediating ad agencies, which have historically been the key consumer of audit bureau data.
But the main thing affecting the audit bureaus is that their traditional reason for existing is declining. Audit bureaus have built a business for 100 years on putting the third-party stamp of credibility on print circulation. For a decade or more they’ve moved in the direction of integrated solutions, including trade shows and Web sites. But their bread-and-butter always was and continues to be, print.
And in an age when print has declined from 80-plus percent of the b-to-b enterprise to more like 60 percent or less, and from 100 percent of the consumer-magazine to 90 percent or less, the writing is on the wall.
In the case of the two main industry associations, American Business Media and Magazine Publishers of America, the argument is more compelling. They’ve always been split by b-to-b and consumer, but the truth is they should be split by large-publications and small ones.
The associations are valuable for a few reasons: They create a forum for like-minded publishers to share information. They lobby the government, especially on postal matters. They provide for networking.
Small consumer magazines have much more in common with b-to-b than they do with behemoths like Time Inc. and Hearst Magazines, and they’d be right to ask themselves why they’re in MPA.
The challenge for both the associations and the audit bureaus is real. Membership in the associations is not cheap, and every single thing they do costs more money. And while being a member of an audit bureau is not too expensive, qualifying can cost tens of thousands or more.