Last week I attended the release of the Audit Bureau of Circulation results for the second quarter 2015. During the presentation I was reminded that media planners tend to feel reassured when they know that someone has actually put his/her hand in his/her pocket and actually paid for a publication. Or to put it another way, planners tend to value subscription and single copy sales over free circulation, says Britta Reid.
Certainly in my agency days, I can recall taking that stance when making the case for the inclusion of publications on a schedule. Now that I am outside the media agency world, I may have a view of publications that is more closely aligned to that of the general reader. It seems to me that whether or not I have paid for a title is less important than whether it contains subjects that interest me. I avidly collect copies of Sawubona, High Life, Kulula Khuluma, Mango Juice and Swiss Magazine. I not only read them, but also keep them for reference. I happily scour the generous free publication stands in Zurich airport for design, fashion and country living publications to bring home for leisurely enjoyment. My German is non-existent, but in these publications the pictures speak for themselves.
I am prepared to admit that these may be the actions of a print addict. It struck me that as a ‘magaphile’, I had been woefully inadequate, in my agency days, in my defence of controlled or free distribution. In order to belatedly make amends for this, I took to Google. Of course, the current themes of readership research are centred on readership across platforms, engagement, the impact of programmatic buying and driving sales. Travelling back in time I eventually came across a paper entitled The Value of Magazine Readership, produced by the Magazine Publishers of America in 2006. It is an old study and magazine focused, but the conclusions are worth resurrecting.
The Value of Magazine Readership drew from a wide range of surveys to support its conclusions. The first was that “price paid and circulation source did not predict reader engagement or demographics”. Secondly it demonstrated that “differences in the ways subscribers, newsstand buyers and public place readers respond to magazines and to the advertising in them are often insignificant.” Thirdly, it showed that “public place copies generate significant advertising exposure opportunities, often to readers with desirable demographic characteristics.”
At the time, advertisers were concerned about the growth in public place reading, which then accounted for roughly one in four readers. A study by McPheters & Company anonymously matched the subscriber base of multiple magazines with the base of MRI respondents. Subscribers whose names were located in the MRI database were then analysed by those demographics deemed to be a determinant of reader quality, such as education and income.
In addition, MRI involvement metrics such as average page exposure, publication rating and interest in advertising were analysed. This exercise revealed that there was relatively little difference in subscriber characteristics or reader involvement based on circulation source or average price paid. Rebecca McPheters said, “the price paid for a particular magazine does not predict the quality of the reader nor is reader quality determined by the method by which a reader acquires a magazine. Quality is a function of reader characteristics (i.e., do they fit the target or are they qualified to buy the product advertised?) and by the engagement of readers with editorial and advertising content (i.e., will they actually see or notice the ad?).”
Advertiser Perceptions Inc’s Power Metrics study examined the relative likelihood of readers to buy a product or service depending on how the reader acquired the copy. Once again the conclusion was that there was no significant difference between the ‘Reader Buying Propensity’ (RBP) of subscribers and public place readers. This was true across categories as various as Medications, Computers, Travel, Women’s Cosmetics, Men’s Toiletries and Alcoholic Beverages.
Affinity Research’s VISTA Print Effectiveness Rating Service provided further reinforcement for the argument. This studied the reaction of readers to advertising messages across various publications and examined the actions taken by magazine purchasers versus the actions of consumers who read a magazine that they did not purchase. Based on interviews with over 60,000 magazine readers, the study showed that more than half took or planned to take action as a direct result of exposure to specific print ads. There was no difference in reader action levels between paid and non-paid readers.
Additional fortification was provided by Northwestern University’s Media Management Centre, which examined the reading experiences of more than 4 300 readers using a metric called Reader Usage Measure (RUM). John Lavine, reported “subscribers, single copy buyers and public place readers also reacted similarly to advertising.”
Certainly the evidence suggests that planners should discard their prejudices against free distribution. Of course, there has to be sense and logic in how it is actioned. I do not condone dumping. I do not see the value of unopened bundles of newspapers placed at the top of the escalators at Gautrain stations.
It is often argued that overseas research is not wholly relevant in South Africa. I can only counter that with some anecdotal evidence from my agency days. We arranged for a one of our clients to produce a wraparound with the Daily Sun for a launch. At that point, the format was less acceptable than it has become. In order to distribute the wraparound, the client purchased a run-on amount of copies which the publisher distributed free of charge, after peak sales time. The unsuspecting vendors charged with this free distribution, were mobbed. There was no doubt of the value of the publication in the readers’ minds!
How do you believe print readership should be measured? Via single copy sales or by the number of eyes on a publication? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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