Less than 20 magazines remain in the Audited Media Association of Australia’s (AMAA) magazine circulation audit following the departure of the three main consumer publishers at the end of last year.
The audited figures for the six months ended December 2016 have been released today, the first since Bauer Media, News Corp’s NewsLifeMedia and Pacific Magazines pulled out of the audit late last year.
David Angell, general manager and head of media at TrinityP3 has labelled the move a “negative step” for the industry.
Angell: Pulling out of audit will only cause more doubt
“It’s a shame that, as an industry, they’ve taken this negative step,” he said.
“Whilst it’s not perfect, there is still nothing as transparent as independent circulation and by pulling out, the publishers make themselves look defensive and self-serving and a bit desperate.
“Clearly, if print circulation wasn’t in decline it would be very hard to imagine them pulling out,” he added.
Angell said media agencies need to be “combining different sorts of data in making decisions”, however, circulation is “an important metic because print sales still form a significant part of what advertisers are buying into”.
“Ideally circulation should be used with readership and all sorts of other data to enable media buyers to make decisions.
“So by removing circulation entirely the publishers have simply made it hard to properly gauge, and at the same time they’ve caused a lot of people to take a very cynical view as to why they’ve done it.
“If they’ve done it to increase advertising revenue I don’t think it’s going to work. It’s certainly going to make mastheads even more challenging to buy with confidence,” he added.
Angell said the decision to pull out of the audit was going to “cause more doubt”.
“It’s going to cause more question marks around whether or not media agencies should buy into advertising platforms,” he said.
However, media buyers appear unconcerned, saying the move wasn’t a surprise.
Mike Wilson, Havas Media Australia CEO, told Mumbrella: “I would hope that most clients recognise that this change is quite significant and therefore they will expect a certain amount of rigour from their agencies in evaluating their investment decisions in the magazine category.”
Wilson: It’s not surprising that in a declining category the decision was made not to reveal standard data
On the decision by the major publishers to pull out of the audit, Wilson said: “Some of the facts show that the magazine category overall has been hit quite hard in recent times, and the fact that the major players now don’t participate in a circulation audit sends some worrying signals about their motives making that decision.
“It is not surprising that in a category that seems to be in decline, particularly against core demographics, that the decision was made not to reveal standard data which is something we all looked at previously. It’s not surprising then the creeping in of a little bit of suspicion or caution. Having said that, there are other metrics available.”
Danny Bass, CEO at IPG Mediabrands, was similarly not surprised.
Bass: The reality is verification as we and clients knew it has changed
“It’s no surprise and fully understandable. To think that the traditional methodology we used to hold any media to account to is still valid today is, at best, naïve,” he said.
“We live in an era where independent third-party verification will never be as it once was. This poses a massive challenge to all who operate across the media ecosystem but it’s now a reality.
“We can pontificate as much much as we want to but the reality is that verification as we and our clients knew it has changed is never coming back. The issues surrounding Google and Facebook have been well documented but has it changed spend patterns ? Not one bit, for now.”
Bass said the way the industry has moved forward has put the onus on media agencies to be the independent arbiter.
“As such the role of a media agency to be an independent arbiter on media placement has never been more important than it is today,” he said.
“Whether this decision will prove to be a good thing for the magazine industry, only time will tell but the challenges they face today will be the same for all media over time.”
For Mark Coad, CEO at PHD Australia, readership metrics are preferable over circulation figures.
Coad: “We’re more interested in how many people have actually engaged or read it”
“We’re more interested in how many people have actually engaged or read it,” he said.
“As long as there’s a third-party endorsement while their audiences remain in play, I don’t have a major issue with it. If I was given the choice over circulation and readership, it would definitely be readership.”
According to the figures, Morrison Media’s Frankie saw its circulation slide by 5.4%, year-on-year, from 53,053 copies of the bi-monthly magazine sold on average in 2015 to 50,167.
Morry Schwartz’s The Monthly bucked declining trends, posting year-on-year circulation growth of 8.5%, selling on average 31,544 copies a month in the final half of 2016, up from the 29,080 sold on average a month at the end of 2015.
Fortnightly magazine The Big Issue saw its circulation drop by 0.60% from 29,064 at the end of 2015 to 28,879.
AFL Media’s AFL Record saw its circulation slip by 5.10% from an average of 26,314 copies a week in the final six months of 2015 to 24,968 in the same period last year.