Duncan Edwards: the global magazine media industry needs to change how it speaks about audience

On 25 February, MPA published the latest data, which showed a 10 per cent year-over-year increase in audience for the six months ending 31 January. The new report also reveals an average monthly gross audience for magazine brands in the US of 1.6bn for August 2014‐January 2015 versus 1.4bn for the same period in 2013.

Congratulations are due to Mary Berner, MPA president and CEO, and the board of directors for initiating this important new measurement, which clearly demonstrates that consumers are engaging with our brands in increasing numbers.

For those of us building digital businesses for our titles, this comes as no surprise, despite headlines that report a negative narrative based on decades-old metrics that don’t tell a complete story of our businesses in today’s multi-platform world.  

It’s time that publishers, and the associations that represent them around the world, rethink how we talk about performance and start to focus on what really matters to our advertising customers (and anyone interested in PR): audience.  

In too many countries, the ABC or its equivalent has been and continues to be the sole measurement of the success for the print side of the industry. There is nothing intrinsically wrong in a measure of distributed copies, but this is not what advertisers are buying today, and therefore is not the right data to emphasise. Every other media measures and is judged by audience, not by its distribution method. Television is measured by the size of the audience that watches a program, not by how many own a television set. The same is true with radio, cinema, outdoor and the web.  

Not only do I see circulation data wrongly used as the primary measure of success, but in many markets, this measure itself is undermined by spurious distinctions. Copies sold at a lower price, or given to consumers free of charge, are often deemed to be of less value to advertisers than full-priced copies. This argument makes no sense at all, especially when, by comparison, television, radio and websites are all largely free to the consumer, and advertisers are happy to support them. Products given to consumers free of charge lose none of their utility, entertainment value or authority. 

Perhaps the biggest problem with circulation measurements is that they ignore the huge audiences that are coming to our brands online. Beloved, world-renowned editorial brands are bringing their clear and distinctive voices to the cacophony of content on the web and millions of consumers are responding around the world. Many publishers, like Hearst, are seeing explosive growth in the audiences for our freeweb sites, with a great majority coming from mobile devices, as we bring our content expertise fully to bear on this important platform. 

Magazine Media 360° is a breakthrough measurement. Using existing print readership and online audience data from respected third parties to create a simple metric that illustrates gross audience reflects the real story of how consumers are behaving. Hearst is working towards implementing this metric for its titles outside the USA, and I urge other publishers and associations to do the same. We have a very positive story to tell and this is the best way to tell it.

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