Called Readership.com, the new service will report subscriptions, single-issue sales, and reader engagement for the top 200 magazines. Among others, Conde Nast, Time Inc., Hachette Filipacchi Media, Meredith Corporation, Parade, and TV Guide have endorsed the project's development; Starcom USA is the only active ad agency partner.
The online service, available on a subscription basis, will not be available to publishers and media buyers until September 2006. Reporting will take up to 3 weeks for weekly publications and 30 days for monthlies. In addition to gauging reader engagement, Readership.com will also report age demographics, household income, and the number of people per household.
According to McPheters and Company President Rebecca McPheters, the new system "allows advertisers to know they got what they thought they were buying." She said Readership.com's timely reporting will enable marketers to document the effects of print ads on sales more easily. "This is the first time fast, issue-specific data has been available--it's hard when you only have new data every 6 months," said McPheters.
Currently, advertisers use a combination of circulation and third-party audience measurement to negotiate ad rates with magazine publishers. One of the problems with circulation is that it takes up to a year to audit.
Inadequate audience measurement practices have been a perennial thorn in the side of top magazine executives. At last week's American Magazine Conference, newly promoted MPA Chief and President/CEO of Hachette Filipacchi Media Jack Kliger called circulation rate bases "the ill in the system," leading to the under-representation of magazines to advertisers.
Conde Nast President and CEO Charles Townsend agreed. "There is a broad industry agreement that [the current practice] falls short of our needs," he said in a statement, effectively putting magazines at what he called "a distinct competitive disadvantage."
While many publishers welcome a new system for measuring audience, it's uncertain how the new system will play with media buyers and planners.