GfK MRI‘s latest Survey of the American Consumer reveals an unsurprising drop-off in print readership, along with a glimmer of hope from digital editions.

The spring 2012 report reveals a 1.7 percent decline in total print readers between the six-month period ended April 2012 and the previous six months. Meanwhile, overall digital readership increased 24 percent, with tablets, e-readers and smartphones contributing a slight but welcome boost in new print readers, at nearly 1 percent.

The spring 2012 report measures readership of 190 magazines in two six-month "waves"—March 2011-October 2011 and September 2011-April 2012—and presents the first full year of data to include a new combined print & digital audience metric. 

The new metric-a net unduplicated estimate of hard-copy and digital edition readers-reveals magazines are seeing varying degrees of readership assistance from digital editions. For many titles, the "Total Print" and "Print & Digital" figures are exactly or nearly identical. For the year, People’s print and digital audience, at 41.9 million, is relatively close to its print audience of 41.7 million. Cosmopolitan’s metrics compare at 17.5 million for print and digital combined, versus 17.3 million for just print.

Some of the more significant, though far from staggering, gainers include ESPN The Magazine, whose print versus print & digital numbers are at 14.9 million and 15.6 million respectively; National Geographic, whose numbers compare at 31.7 million versus 32.1 million; and WebMD the Magazine, with 7.3 million print readers versus 8 million print and digital.

New Metrics for Print & Digital Reading

Last fall’s Survey, including six months of data, was the first to reflect revised wording to GfK MRI’s in-home, in-person survey questions. 

The revisions were made to "better capture digital reading," according to GfK MRI. 
The "Print & Digital Editions Reach" metric replaces the "Total Brand Reach" metric included in last fall’s report; "Total Brand Reach" counted any digital exposure, including visitors to a magazine’s website, while the new metric confines digital readership to reproductions or apps that are essentially the same or similar to the print magazine.

While these changes interrupt the ability to trend the data as historically as before—previously, MRI provided unbroken trends from the mid-70s through spring 2011—Scott McDonald, senior vice president of marketing research for Condé Nast, told Audience Development that this "hugely disruptive" change is necessary to gain insight based on the current state of media. 

During the same week this new report was released, Condé Nast issued a historical analysis of MRI data, revealing the persistent popularity of print among young readers.

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