Any publisher will tell you that their readers are their most valued asset. Readers dictate the editorial bread and butter of the magazine’s pages, and if a publisher is clueless about who its readers are and what they want to know, that magazine is likely to close before the salespeople can say "ratecard."
Publishers occasionally distribute reader polls inside the pages of their magazines, with a business-reply envelope for readers to return their surveys. Today, the chance readers will take the time to not only answer survey questions but also tear out the pages and mail them back to the publisher seem slim-to-none in a digital era.
Hachette Filipacchi’s Car and Driver and Road & Track, conduct e-mail reader research polls every three weeks, which may seem like a lot compared to other magazines that do reader surveys every couple of years. But for these enthusiast titles, which have the challenge of holding onto car-obsessed readers year after year, reader research is an imperative. "We think it’s important to stay on top of who our readers are," says vice president of marketing Zvia Hermann. "We want to see if there are any changes in their psychographic and demographic profiles."
The automotive group has a 10,000-person reader panel, made up of volunteers. Every three weeks, a portion of the reader panel receives a subscriber poll or survey. Hermann offers the service of polling the reader panel to clients and advertisers who want to tap into what the readers perceptions are of various brands and products, using research as a revenue tool. "It could be a pre-post study where we send a poll out before a client runs a campaign in the magazine, so we know their perception of that product beforehand, and then after the campaign we poll them again to see if the needles have moved," says Hermann.
Hermann says about 90 percent of reader research is done via e-mail, which yields at least a 40 percent response rate in under two weeks. In-book surveys are done periodically, to get a handle on newsstand-reader profiles, but the reader panel and industry surveys done via e-mail have saved the magazine thousands. "It used to cost us $50,000 to $60,000 to do a mailed subscriber study. Now we could do a year’s worth of e-mail polls to our reader panel for the cost of one mail study," says Hermann. "In the old days, we had to mail it and wait and do a second and third mailing, and now clients really appreciate that they get very quick feedback."