Print Measurement Debate Rages On

A panel discussion at Thursday's inaugural Association of National Advertisers Print Advertising Forum loudly affirmed what many pundits have been whispering for years: advertisers, agencies and publishers may purport to measure magazine readership, but the industry is still thirsting for a system that accurately and efficiently gauges the number of people who read a given publication.

The five participants in "Magazine Readership Measurement - Where Should We Go From Here?" said that while information compiled by the Magazine Publishers of America, Publishers Information Bureau and Mediamark Research is valuable, each only provides a piece of the readership puzzle. Furthermore, the information coveted by advertisers - especially data relating to the involvement level of a magazine's readers - has largely proven elusive.

"We have to rethink the way national print is evaluated, planned and purchased," stressed Jack Kliger, president and chief executive officer of Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S.



According to the panelists, one major problem is that while, say, PIB's circulation data provides a reasonably accurate estimate of a title's overall readership, those figures do little to tell would-be magazine advertisers about readers' passion for a publication. For instance, does a Better Homes and Gardens subscriber eagerly rip into her copy the day it arrives, or skim it a few weeks later? To advertisers, that is a major distinction.

Obtaining this kind of information requires extensive surveying, but even the best survey research is inherently flawed (as it relies on the subjective memory of its respondents). And since magazine readership cannot be measured simply by watching readers peruse their favorite titles, even the most esteemed researchers are feeling a bit frustrated. "I don't know how to measure magazines electronically, and I certainly don't know how to measure magazines passively," said Kathi Love, Mediamark's president and chief executive officer.

On the other hand, Simmons Market Research Bureau president Chris Wilson wondered if the measurement problem was as much one of mindset as of research technique: "[Publishers] should be focused on the delivery of results, not readers."

In any event, nearly everybody within the media food chain would like to see a research breakthrough as soon as possible, especially with advertisers poised to start spending again. Several of the panelists expressed concern that without more advanced measurement techniques, magazines may never be able to make the case that they deserve the marketing dollars currently being pumped into television. "We've become sort of passive when it comes to competition with TV," Kliger said.

As for the future, Kliger would like to see an increase in the amount of consumer research: "We need to know much more about our primary customers." Overall, however, the panelists cautioned that there are no quick fixes. For now, the best option for print advertisers and publishers seems to be making do with existing measurement techniques while actively pushing for better ones.

Indeed, the best quick summary of the measurement conundrum might have come during the opening remarks by panel moderator David Marans, senior partner at MindShare North America: "We're all awash in research. But in some cases, there's not enough."

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