Consumers Abandon Channels, Not Publishers

A business-to-business magazine we placed advertising with for a client had shown declining circulation numbers for the book for a few consecutive quarters. For any agency, this is a cause for concern. One might have suspected that the book's audience was fleeing the publication entirely, perhaps to a competitor, perhaps to some new standalone Web site chipping away at traditional publishers' audience numbers.

But that wasn't the case. Upon closer examination, we found that the publisher had debuted a PDF version of the magazine with enhanced functionality and readers were opting to subscribe to the electronic version of the publication in lieu of the dead tree edition, downloading the electronic version once a month. Eventually, these audience numbers were included in the publication's audit statement, but for a while there, the book appeared to be losing its valuable audience.

The statistics on the electronic edition were astounding. For one, the electronic edition and the regular edition did not duplicate. At all. The publication's qualified circulation was opting for one or the other, not both. So advertisers in the print publication who did not participate in the electronic edition were losing audience to channel migration at a steady rate.



Moreover, subscribers were writing to the publisher to express their views, stating their preference for the online version and asking the publisher to please ensure they no longer mailed copies of the magazine to their offices, but instead sent the subscriber a notification e-mail to let them know the instant that the online edition was available for download.

What looked on paper like a serious concern about audience migration turned out to be a terrific opportunity. When adding together the unduplicated audience of both print and online, the publisher was actually growing qualified audience at a healthy clip.

Furthermore, the client advertising in the print publication could easily participate in the electronic version by simply opting to include its existing print ad within the electronic edition. Opting to do so would give the advertiser access to the increasing number of subscribers who wanted the digital edition. But, if the advertiser wanted to do more, they could take advantage of additional opportunities within the electronic edition, including multiple live areas in their ad that could link to multiple destinations, participating in electronic business reply card (BRC) or reader service card (RSC) programs.

It's not just the realm of print that can afford such opportunities to extend reach electronically. How many times have you listened to the radio recently and the DJ announces that listeners can tune in online by clicking a button on the station's Web site? Like in the print opportunity I described above, advertisers can take advantage of opportunities by simply including their run-of-the-mill radio spots. But in many cases, more can be done by running online ads along with the radio spots.

Audience erosion is a big problem for many advertisers both large and small. But the sky may not be falling in certain situations - advertisers may find that the audience that disappeared from a publisher's offline vehicles may have simply reappeared in the same publisher's online channel, and can be easily reached in even more compelling ways. All that needs to be done in many cases is to examine the online opportunity with the publisher and see where ground can be gained against their audience.

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