Reader Experience Necessary, New Research Applies It To Specific Magazine Titles

Last October, when the Magazine Publishers of America unveiled a potentially groundbreaking study on the relationship between consumers and the magazines they read, it promised to transform the way publishers manage their operations, the way editors craft their content, and the way advertisers and agencies plan and buy magazine advertising.

But the effort remained just a promise. While the data was filled with insights about the so-called "reader experience" with magazines as a medium, it lacked the kind of title-specific-or even category-detailed-data that would make it truly actionable for any of those constituencies, especially the ad community. Four months later, a major supplier of magazine audience data, Monroe Mendelsohn Research (MMR), is trotting out a new service it claims will fulfill that promise.

Dubbed the Publication Readership Satisfaction Survey (PReSS), the new syndicated study picks up where the MPA initiative left off, providing detailed, title-specific data on the discrete relationships readers have with more than 200 individual magazines. The data is exactly the kind of research planners have been seeking to help differentiate the potential advertising impact of one magazine over another, particularly within editorial categories that offer a number of similar publications. "It's very promising research. So far, we like what we've seen," says Tony Jarvis, senior vice president-director of consumer insights at MediaCom Worldwide, which expects to license the data, which is based on an annual survey of readers, for its print planning and buying operations.



In effect, the new study seeks to pick up where the custom readership studies of individual magazines leave off. While custom readership studies are great at filling in the blanks about how readers relate to the magazines that commission them, they generally can't be used to evaluate comparable magazines in the same category. As a result, magazine planners and buyers are often left to make their own value judgments about the relative impact of one title versus another.

"There hasn't been any comparability," says Walter McCullough, president-CEO of MMR. "Reader studies are done for individual magazines." By asking a standardized set of 18 behavioral and perceptual questions across the titles it surveys, McCullough says PReSS effectively establishes a "brand persona" for each magazine. Some of the questions are core building blocks of existing industry efforts to measure the impact or engagement magazines have with their readers. In fact, the study incorporates the same core elements of reading frequency and duration that are the core of the Reader Involvement Index, now being championed by Reader's Digest and other magazines.

But PReSS goes a step further, providing a detailed portrait of consumer attitudes toward each title that includes detailed ratings on a magazine's differentiation, graphic appeal entertainment value, and other factors. While PReSS' readership attributes are fewer in number than the 39 included in the MPA's study, McCullough says the MMR incorporates them. Interestingly, he says all that is coincidental, because MMR began developing and fielding a pilot study for the PReSS research before the MPA even announced its efforts.

"We started to do this on our own. Then we learned about the MPA's effort," says Robert Shullman, senior vice president and author of the MMR study.

"The concept is not entirely new. People have been trying to get at this for years.

What is new is that it is being applied in the marketplace."

In fact, when the MPA initially unveiled its study, association executives acknowledged its shortcomings, as well as the fact that they could not provide title-specific data. They also said they expected syndicated research suppliers to step forward with products of their own to provide those details, although at the time they were unaware of MMR's efforts. One element that was missing from the MPA research and is still lacking in MMR's study is any direct comparison between the experiences consumers have with magazines and with other media--something media planners and buyers are also seeking to understand with greater clarity.

In October, MPA executives said they planned to provide multimedia comparisons at a future date. McCullough says that MMR has similar plans, but that the first step is getting the magazine study established.

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