Shops Find Magazines Less Accountable Than Publishers Think

It wasn't surprising that one of the "breakout" panels at Wednesday's New York Magazine Day was devoted to the hot-button issue of accountability. What was surprising was the general consensus among panelists that magazines have a lot of work to do in this regard.

The panelists noted that magazines claim to offer accountability in spades. Think about it: does any other medium provide a comparable level of data to what's included in the average MRI report? And how many other media are held to standards as exacting as those of the Audit Bureau of Circulations? "The degree to which [the magazine industry] is audited is extraordinary," said Time4Media Senior Vice President Steven Shure. "It's an absolute dissection." This level of detail, however, may work against it: the frequency of measurement leaves more than a bit to be desired. And as opposed to their network television peers, publishers can't immediately tell marketers how many people have seen their ads.

Panelists saw several other cracks in the accountability veneer. MediaVest vice president, director of print services Robin Steinberg questioned how much accountability really means to most publishers. "I truly don't believe that the publishing industry wants to be accountable, because [publishers] are afraid what they're going to find out." She also wondered whether the magazine business was approaching the accountability issue the right way. "We do not do a good enough job in asking direct questions," she stressed, saying she'd like to see more information about how readers experience a given title on an issue-by-issue basis. Reader's Digest Association research guru Britta Ware agreed: "We need more accountability to what the goals were... Did I shift attitudes? Did I make a sale?"



And then there's the question as to what publishers are doing with all the magazine data. Questioning the reliance upon circulation data, Men's Health Vice President, Publisher MaryAnn Bekkedahl quipped: "I'd swear on a bible that our fashion advertisers don't know what our [circulation] is." The editorial environment, she suggested, remains as important as rate base for many advertisers, and to measure this would require an entirely different set of questions and metrics--not to mention an entirely different outlook.

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