Magazine Print Readership Declines, Digital Grows

Consumer magazines’ print readership declined over the last year, but the losses were partly offset by growth in digital readership, according to GfK MRI, which recently released the second wave of its revised Survey of The American Consumer, amended to include more questions about digital reading.

In the period from September 2011-April 2012, the total average print audience of 190 major titles tracked by GfK MRI came to just over 1.2 billion, down 2.7% from 1.24 billion for the same period in 2011. When print and digital editions are considered together, the figure sank 2.6% from just under 1.25 billion to just under 1.22 billion. (The GfK MRI figures offer unduplicated estimates of audiences for print and digital editions, but do not include traffic to magazine Web sites.)

Judging by these figures, digital readership is making a small but growing contribution to the total magazine audience. The most recent wave included some 34.7 million unduplicated digital readers, up from 31.8 million unduplicated digital readers in the previous wave. That's still a small proportion of total readership, at about 2.8% of the combined print and digital audience, up from 2.5% a year before.

GfK MRI introduced the new questions in its Survey of The American Consumer in response to growing demand from publishers and advertisers for more information about digital readership, spurred by the widespread adoption of tablet-style computers and e-readers.

In February GfK MRI also launched Starch Digital, a syndicated service to measure the readership and effectiveness of digital advertising in consumer magazines. Starch Digital will measure every ad in every issue of 40 top magazines on tablets, e-readers and in various digital reproductions, including Zinio and Coverleaf, with title-specific data that is due to become available sometime in the second quarter. This will include monthly ROI metrics for 25 magazine genres and 625 advertised product categories.

These metrics include: the percentage of readers who noted a digital ad, how much of an ad was read (the “read any” and “read most” ratings), and actions taken as a result of reading a digital ad, including making an actual purchase, intent to buy, visiting a Web site, and recommending a product.

The Starch Digital survey also includes customized questions to address unique features of digital ads -- for example, whether readers looked at associated video or photo galleries.

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