I was reviewing some magazine properties the other day. I was surprised to see that the headline circulation of one of the titles was several times bigger than I expected it to be.
After looking up the titles latest ABC certificate I realised that the bulk of the distribution, some 75% of the total was ascribed to digital editions. In the modern world the reach of magazine titles is the sum of the print circulation plus digital editions plus web traffic, plus readers of electronic newsletters plus web traffic plus downloaders of apps.
As a result the potential reach of magazine brands is increasing- which sounds like good news. The problem is that we and therefore our advertisers have no way of knowing what any of this might mean.
Is a web reader worth more or less than the controlled circulation recipient of a print magazine? Is a recipient of a digital page turner edition the same as a print reader, and how do either of them compare with the user of an app? Is a newsletter reader just the duplicate of a web reader?
When we sell advertisements in a print magazine we make an implicit assumption that every reader consumes every page equally. When we sell web advertising we might talk about unique users but advertisers are measuring what they by on a page impression count or even a click through. Should advertisers be buying the circulation of digital editions on the basis of the number of copies sent or the open rate? If ads in an app deliver a better branding result than web display ads how can that be measured? If an app ad allows “in app browsing” will media buyers insist on pricing app ads on a CTR basis?
The audit bodies, the ABC and the BPA have some work to do to remain relevant in a multiple platform world. The future development of media advertising in a multiple platform world depends upon there being an industry accepted currency for how audience is measured. At the moment, as my questions illustrate there is no such consensus.
Would it be beyond the ken of the audit bodies to construct an algorithm which aggregated audience from different platforms and resolved a single measure of reach for a media brand? It would be controversial, as are all audience measurement systems, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary.
The audit bodies may well argue that such a project is for the media owners to derive and drive. With so many vested interests that is unlikely to happen. Either the ABC or the BPA have an opportunity to take a lead here. Although their paymasters are the media owners, their relevance in the multi platform world depends upon the currency they offer being valued by the media buyers. They should rise to the challenge before it is too late lest they wither as so many of the print magazines they used to audit have done before them.