Why you should pay real attention to what is happening in the US

The narrative in the industry is a positive one, in part thanks to an innovation at the MPA (the US-based Association of Magazine Media) with the Magazine Media 360º Brand Audience Report, launched in September 2014 to measure magazine media brand audiences across platforms and formats.

While not without its critics (there always are, aren’t there?), it is a major step in the right direction. At the very least, it has people thinking about magazine media again, putting an emphasis on what is right (or moving in the right direction) in the industry rather than focusing on one particular channel, namely print, and pronouncing the industry dead (and that’s not right, anyway).

Besides, no approach to media measurement today can ever be set in stone as consumption habits continue to evolve. Nor is it particular to magazine media. Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, Medium and of late Super, told attendees at the recent American Magazine Media 360º Conference (AMMC) about how they developed total time reading, or TTR, as a measure of success. It is about looking at actual engagement with content and advertising, or attention paid to it, rather than purely at audience scale. [AdAge did a Q&A on it with Stone’s co-founder Evan Williams here.]

There are many reasons why media owners elsewhere should take heed of what is happening in the US. At the AMMC earlier in February, Condé Nast president Bob Sauerberg described its impact on the industry there thus: it “is an important development to change the narrative, serving as an example of how the industry is evolving and showcasing our eagerness to embrace the future.”

FIPP’s Cobus Heyl asked (via email) Mary Berner, President and CEO of MPA — The Association of Magazine Media, and driving force behind Magazine Media 360º, ten questions.

1.       Mary, for those not familiar with MM360º, tell us what it is?

Magazine Media 360° is a newly created industry metric that captures demand for magazine media content by measuring audiences across multiple platforms and formats (including print+digital editions, websites and video), using data from leading third-party providers.  Currently covering approximately 145 magazine media brands from over 30 companies, representing 95 per cent of the reader universe, the data is released monthly with complete transparency via The MPA Magazine Media 360° Brand Audience Report. This effort, which provides a comprehensive and accurate picture of magazine media vitality, was launched in September 2014 and marks the first time ever any media industry has measured and communicated cross-platform consumer demand by brand. The Magazine Media 360° Social Media Report is released separately.  

2.       There is such a strong association between magazines and print, it was important to show that magazines today are more than print alone, thus the use of “magazine media” to reflect its multi- or omni-channel nature. How does MM360º help to change this?

You’re right. Yesterday’s print “magazine” company is today’s “magazine media” company reflecting the fact that almost all magazine brand produce content across multiple platforms and formats in addition to print. By capturing and communicating (every single month) consumer demand for magazine brands across their whole content ecosystem, Magazine Media 360° reinforces and validates this fact. 

3.       Going a bit further back, how did it come about and how hard was it to get it off the ground?

Frankly, the idea wasn’t hard to sell. We all agreed on the need to change the conversation surrounding our industry from one focused exclusively on one format – print – to a more complete (and therefore accurate) conversation about the dissemination of magazine content across multiple formats and platforms in addition to print. The challenge was more in the “what” and “how” of actually getting it done. I knew that it would never happen if we “committee’d” it to death so we developed the actual measurement with a small and deeply engaged group of people who were committed to creating the product quickly (in less than four weeks). Getting wide and deep industry buy-in, however, was a heavy lift in that it required over two hundred individual presentations (almost always tailored to a specific company or brand) in less than two months to top executives, editors, writers, and publishers from approximately 145 brands across more than 30 companies. But the need for – and importance of – launching the Magazine Media 360° Brand Audience Report was never disputed. We recognised that the doom and gloom that had characterised press coverage (and therefore advertiser perception) of magazine media was largely a result of our inability to measure consumer demand for our content across platforms and formats – not because of consumer disinterest or lack of engagement in our brands. So, the ability to report the vitality of our brands across the entire content ecosystem was something the industry readily embraced.

4.       Your latest report said magazine media audiences were up 9.30 per cent year-on-year in December, with a gross magazine media brand audience of 1.6 billion in December 2014 versus 1.45 billion in December 2013. How do you define, or what does, “gross magazine media brand audience” mean? 

Gross magazine media audience represents the total audiences across all platforms and formats (including print+digital editions, websites and video), for approximately 145 magazine media brands from over 30 companies, representing 95 per cent of the reader universe. The audiences are de-duplicated within each platform, but not between platforms (hence the “gross” delineation). 

5.       Now that you’ve got it going, what happens next?

We are in the midst of a Magazine Media 360° road show to advertisers, who are endorsing and embracing this new measurement, since the overwhelming majority of advertisers who buy magazine media, buy multiple platforms. They like the ability to track consumer demand by brand across the whole content ecosystem with such transparency each month. And we are hard at work on version 2.0 which ideally will capture consumer engagement. The goal is for Magazine Media 360° to ultimately become a dynamic advertising planning tool – but that is going to be considerably more complicated to figure out than capturing gross audience by brand and by platform/format.

Stay tuned.

6.       One gets a sense that magazine media companies in the US are cooperating to a greater extent than ever before, of which MM360º is of course evidence. Why is this?

There was unanimous frustration within the industry that we had been unable to measure our entire, growing audience as our consumption has expanded across platforms. The only way to create a new and credible metric was to get everyone on board, which the industry leadership recognised and jumped at with enthusiasm. It is pretty obvious that in order to change the conversation about magazine media to one that truly reflects its vitality, we need to be singing off the same song sheet. So the MPA board came to the table to do this. Then after the meetings, they went back to their desks and the ferocious, albeit healthy, competition among them resumed. 

7.       What does MM360º tell you about the future of magazine media?

There is no crystal ball.  But our audiences across platforms are up about ten percent each month, which is of course very positive. While it is still early days for digital media, until the dust settles and the outlines of successful long-term business models appear, we believe that consumer demand is the best proxy – and the only common currency – for determining which companies or brands will prevail.  What is particularly encouraging is that the digital growth doesn’t appear to be at the expense of print. Instead, print audiences (which are flat overall, if not modestly up) are becoming a smaller part of a growing magazine media pie. 

8.       FIPP’s members are of course international. What are the 3-5 biggest lessons you have learned with MM360º that you can share with them?

1)     You can pretty rapidly disrupt the status quo when the right players (and a commitment to timely execution) are involved. 

2)     In order to successfully effect this kind of change or programme, the critical element is to enlist the full support of the industry leaders at the get-go.

3)     Implementation doesn’t come without tremendous discipline. All participants have to stay on message and stick to the new measurement – and refrain from defaulting to other less comprehensive measurements (even when that news may be good). 

9.       Why should other FIPP members care?

I know first hand (from my prior role as a CEO of an international magazine media company) that the challenges we started to address with Magazine Media 360° aren’t unique to the US market. There isn’t one FIPP member who isn’t wrestling with the transition from “magazine” (print only) to “magazine media” and its competitive – as well as business model – implications. I’d argue that they should care because you can’t effectively sell – either to advertisers or to consumers – what you can’t measure in a credible, consistent and comparable way. Magazine Media 360° has done just that and as such, has redefined the business we are in for our readers and advertisers. What magazine company wouldn’t want to do that?

10.   Anything else you’d like to add?

The reason that Magazine Media 360° is changing the conversation about magazine media is because the report is credible. That means that each month there are winners and losers, ups and downs. The 30-plus participating companies were willing to risk the fact that their individual story in a particular month might not be strong, for the benefit of putting out a comprehensive and accurate narrative about the whole industry, and that takes courage. 

Get in touch

Do you have comments or similar stories to share? Get in touch with Cobus.

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