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Can multiplatform audiences transform the fortunes of magazines?

With magazines touting multiplatform audiences as the new standard to sceptical advertisers and agencies Mumbrella looks at what multiplatform audiences actually are, how they are being measured, and the potential pitfalls in the methodology, in the first of a two-part series supported by Magazine Networks.

Australia’s three major magazine publishers caused controversy last December when they withdrew from the Audited Media Association of Australia’s (AMAA) circulation audit, effectively killing circulation as a metric for major consumer magazines.

The move was widely interpreted as a ploy by publishers to limit transparency, particularly because the circulation of Australian consumer magazines had been in decline, almost across the board, for years. That decline has been accompanied by an even greater drop in advertiser dollars.

Martin Orliac, GM of digital agency Annalect, sums up the feeling around the market saying the move “certainly doesn’t inspire confidence.”

“As clients are demanding more transparency, publications resisting audited measurements will ultimately end up losing even more clientele, thus further reducing readership and circulation,” he predicts.

“Clients are demanding more transparency”: Orliac

After the first set of circulation data, sans major publishers, was published last month, trade magazine AdNews reported beauty brand L’Oréal intended to pull millions of advertising dollars from the medium.

But when Mumbrella contacted L’Oreal for comment the message was rather different:

L’Oréal Australia believes in print and has doubled the investment for forecasted 2017, a decision we stand by. We will be working with all of our magazine partners in a highly collaborative manner to gain transparency,” said communications director, Christine Burke.

While that is a vote of confidence from a major advertiser, the point about transparency is one that cannot be ignored. The question is what measure can the industry use to trade on instead?

Why were publishers unhappy with the audit?

Publishers have long argued the circulation metric puts too much emphasis on their print product, which is now only one medium in a rapidly growing multiplatform landscape.  

Nicole Sheffield, CEO of NewsLifeMedia, sums up their position thus: “Magazine brands today are consumed across many platforms including print, digital, social and experiential. The audience that our brands talk to is growing significantly and to reflect this, the metrics we use must give a more detailed audience picture.”

“The audience that our brands talk to is growing significantly”: Nicole Sheffield

Furthermore, publishers felt that reporting circulation put misguided emphasis on volume, in a world where more media platforms are pointing to their audience engagement as a sign of success.

Marina Go, former GM of Bauer Media’s Hearst brands, says volume “seemed to be the most important language when in fact very solid niche audiences and engagement with those niche audiences is increasingly much more important than numbers for the sake of numbers.”

Sheffield gives an analogy: “We don’t count the number of TV sets in a home as a measure of TV audience or outdoor billboards as a measure of outdoor audience.”

Indeed Nick Chan, CEO of Bauer Media, characterises it saying magazines “desperately want a level playing field with other media”. “

“We are more than just copy sales,” he says. “We believe that the key measure should be audiences, whether they be readership or digital.”

What of those who argue the landscape is becoming less transparent?

I think most of them don’t understand the offering of magazines. We are literally about the audiences and readerships that emanate out of that,” retorts Chan.

Volume, continues Go, isn’t a great measure of effectiveness in any medium. She points out that niche websites generally have a deeper engagement with their audiences than websites with a high volume of traffic.

“Commercial partners want deep and meaningful engagement,” she says. “They don’t want someone jumping in and out of a site on which they have an ad or native content. In many ways this volume approach is very similar to just looking at a sheer number of copy sales.”

What is multiplatform measurement?

Publishers hope the lack of circulation figures will finally force media agencies and advertisers to start using the system they have been quietly pushing since late 2015, multiplatform measurement.

This system combines Monthly Digital Ratings (DRM) from Nielsen for their online assets and magazine readership data from bodies like EMMA and Roy Morgan.

Magazines like Marie Claire are keen to push their breadth of audience across platforms

“This gives a complete brand picture of audience consumption across print and digital platforms,” argues Sheffield. “Agencies and advertisers want transparency, accuracy and frequency of data and accountability for their investment, using readership and digital metrics delivers this.”

In November 2015, industry body Magazine Networks rolled-out its Magazine Media 360° Report, which combines EMMA print readership data with Nielsen web traffic, and social media audience size from publishers themselves.

The equivalent organisation in the US has been publishing a similar report since September 2014, in a bid to address the same concerns by American publishers.

“It takes time for people to adapt”: Thomas-Brooks

“As with anything new, it often takes some time for people to adapt to the new way of thinking,” says Linda Thomas Brooks, CEO and president of the Magazine Publishers of America (MPA).

“Two and a half years later, the Magazine Media 360° Brand Audience Report is the standard by which we measure, and the figures that the market uses to assess individual titles and categories.”

Ultimately success of the new metric depends on whether media agencies and advertisers embrace it. Mark Coad, CEO of PHD, strongly supports the shift away from a circulation-centric measurement system. He believes the change is not only warranted, but much needed.

A very long time ago TV used to have a metric called Households Using Television,” he says.

“No one cares about that metric anymore so I don’t see why we need to encumber the magazine industry on an antiquated metric that talks about how many units they sold off a news-stand or distributed at an airport. All we care about are the types and the quantities of the audiences we’re reaching.”

Can you measure audience size without an audit?

But doesn’t circulation inform readership? How can we get an accurate picture of readership if we don’t know how many copies are being read?

Traditionally readership was calculated by multiplying a publication’s total circulation by the average number of people who read each copy. A magazine might be passed around from person to person in an office, for example, and this “pass-along” rate was generally thought to be about 2.5 readers.

That’s no longer how the leading measurement bodies are calculating readership. Both the EMMA and Roy Morgan rely on face-to-face and/or phone interviews and online questionnaires with randomly selected Australians to ascertain readership.

The Readership Works president Mal Dale

“The sample is accurately weighted to match the demographic makeup of Australia,” says Mal Dale, president of The Readership Works, which drove the development of EMMA. EMMA’s methodology includes the application of a process known as “propensity weighting,” whereby a discount is applied to the total estimated audience based on the fact that people who read magazines are more likely to participate in a readership survey. “This is measured during the recruitment process and subsequently factored into the readership estimate,” he says.

These surveys now gather vast amounts of information – from age all the way to if, where and for what people like to shop. But without circulation data to check these numbers against, some advertisers may remain sceptical.

The MPA’s Thomas Brooks points out the publishers themselves also have a role to play in sharing data: “Since magazines have deep relationships with consumers – relationships that are typically started by the consumer – the first-party data that magazine publishers have is enormously valuable.”

Does duplication matter?

How does this all change the way publishers sell to advertisers? In some respects, very little.

We’ve always sold on audience,” says NewsLifeMedia’s Sheffield. “It’s about having a deep understanding of the advertiser’s objectives and marrying that with what we know from our data to drive consumer behaviours. We look at each of our brands and platforms holistically and work out which role each has to play to support that objective.”

One point of contention is the issue of duplication of audience across platforms. Bauer’s Chan notes that the overlap between their digital audiences and print audiences is actually very low. “In most cases it’s below 10%. What we are finding is very similar values in our audiences but a channel preference in how they want to consume various brands.”

Chan says audience overlap is low for different platforms

Nevertheless, agencies and brands want transparency around duplication. “That’s probably the one area that could improve,” says PHD’s Coad.

If I’m told that there are 50,000 readers on that platform, and 50,000 on that digital channel, both under a magazine masthead, I do want to know if they are the same people or not, and I’m not confident we are getting that information at the moment.”

Go argues that duplication isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “Very solid marketers understand the importance of frequency of message and so if you are receiving a similar message every time you touch the brand in some way, then you are confirming a commercial partner’s message.”

She points to her days editing Dolly, before the brand had a digital presence, when advertisers would book three ads in a single issue “because they knew that the more times a customer saw an ad, the greater the recall”.

Go: “The proof will be in the pudding”

“That behaviour has gone out the window because marketing budgets are so stretched these days, but the basic premise is still relevant,” she says. “That’s a great thing about multiplatform touch points – the more the reader is reminded of the brand, the stronger the recall, brand association, mindset, loyalty, all those things.”

In the end, however, the effectiveness of these new metrics hinges on agencies and clients. They are the ones who will determine whether they are useful, and whether they endure. “The proof will be in the pudding,” says Go.

Part 2:

What do publishers and agencies need to do to change the magazine audiences conversation?

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