Capturing Demand For Magazine Media Content By Measuring Audiences Across Multiple Platforms And Formats.
“What this does is make us the first-ever media to capture as an industry, basically the cross-platform demand by brand. No other industry does this.” Mary Berner
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) to provide a comprehensive and accurate picture of magazine media vitality. Magazine Media 360° uses data from leading third-party providers and from the reader universe. This is the first time ever by any media to measure and communicate cross-platform consumer demand by brand.
Mary Berner, President & CEO, MPA – The Association of Magazine Media, believes in the driving force of this new metric that can measure platforms as a whole, rather than just from the print side.
I reached out to Mary recently and our conversation was focused on the new consumer centric and audience-first mentality Magazine Media 360 promotes and advocates. The time for this type of thinking in the magazine media industry, Berner believes, is one that has finally come and will help to change the reality of the way the industry measures and monetizes the many platforms offered to the consumer today.
So sit back and enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Mary Berner, President & CEO, MPA.
But first the sound-bites…
On the purpose of Magazine Media 360: For us as an industry, this is a game changer. What it does is reflect a very seismic shift away from communicating and capturing print-only metrics to a whole ecosystem metric.
On the timing of the new measuring system: I don’t think the industry was ready for it yet, I think we needed some critical mass in terms of multi-platform distribution content and frankly the third party research providers weren’t yet ready to get the data; so I think the time is right now.
On whether she believes the magazine media industry’s problems have all been self-inflicted: I would say that print is a part of the consumer consumption experience, an extremely important part, but I would say that we haven’t told the story in regards to consumer demand up to this point.
On the major stumbling blocks she believes will be encountered along the way: To be truthful, our attention in trying to figure out all the things that could and might go wrong ahead of time and addressing any and all challenges before we actually launched this, puts us in a position where we’ve asked and answered many of the stumbling blocks.
On what’s next for Mary Berner and Magazine Media 360: This is just the beginning. I think it’s a good first step, but what we need to show is engagements, because we know from research in various companies the engagements in these brands of these multi-platform experiences are really extraordinary.
And now the lightly edited transcription of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Mary Berner, President & CEO, MPA… Keep in mind, that since this is a brand new tool the MPA is using in measuring the strength of magazines and magazine media I’ve opted for a full explanation and presentation that Mary shared with me. It is essential to document and understand this new milestone marker in the history of magazines and magazine media..
Samir Husni: Explain Magazine Media 360 and the reasons behind this new magazine media measurement plan.
Mary Berner: For us as an industry, this is a game changer. What it does is reflect a very seismic shift away from communicating and capturing print-only metrics to a whole ecosystem metric. And as such when you look at the data, it actually redefines the state of magazine media. We believe that consumer demand also means money.
The idea for this and I believe you and I talked about it and debated it, but essentially the word magazine was the impetus for this entire idea. The word magazine for most people almost always refers to the print product. And yet every company pretty much operates as multi-platform, multimedia companies.
So the impetus was the shift from being magazine companies to magazine media companies and every single one of them does this and this is an interesting concept, so keep this in mind when you think about our methodology. The one thing that’s unique about magazine media and we’re defining it as a content brand that is anchored in a print magazine, but also disseminates magazine media content across many platforms and formats, so the magazine media content strategy is, for the most part, a platform-specific strategy, which means you create the content specific to the platform, as opposed to, for example, a television strategy which is platform agnostic. And that means you have an everywhere, anywhere strategy where the consumer gets the same content wherever they are, whenever they want it.
And by definition the audience augmenting, or differentiating content has actually been audience augmenting, because any one of these experiences, for example on Sunset, you consume as a consumer on its own and you would do so because you understand the Sunset brand means something, whereas the audience fragmented television strategy is audience fragmenting because obviously, you wouldn’t watch the same program again and again.
And this pretty much applies…this kind of platform-specific content strategy, to just about every brand, at least the major ones. So, for example, I could consume the video content from Woman’s World, which for them would be focused on exercise, without ever being a reader of the print version of the magazine media content. And we’re finding that the numbers bear this out, that digital-only consumers are going to the brand experience under the magazine media brand and this applies to just about all of the major magazines.
Essentially, here’s how we got to where we got to; right now what we have is print metrics and with advertising, for example; out of 10 advertisers only two limit their investment in that brand to the print version, only two. Eight of the others also invest across the multiple platforms. So it’s 80% that do something besides print. Yet a PIB (Publishers Information Bureau) or an advertising paging number only captures one part of it and in no way captures an advertiser’s commitment to a brand. So by definition it’s incomplete and therefore inaccurate.
And that played out again and again this fall. For example, the September issue of one of the big fashion magazines had a PIB number that was down, yet their advertising performance was the best it had been in 15 years, because the advertisers committed to multi-platform packages. In isolation, a print advertising page number just isn’t a great metric anymore.
And ditto for circulation if you look at the AAM (Alliance for Audited Media, the former ABC, Audit Bureau of Circulation) statements. Circulation is basically the counting of copies sold or distributed. Yet, if you add up all the AAM titles, they represent only 30% of the total print magazine audience, which is how planners buy. So, it doesn’t really tell the whole story. And then when you actually apply that to the whole ecosystem, the AAM circulation represents only 21% of the total audience. So using a circulation number in isolation, I think it does certain things, but in isolation by definition, it’s like pegging the audience or the vitality of the Super Bowl based on the number of people in the stadium, it essentially under captures.
Yet, in light of all that, what we’ve asked ourselves is what is the common courtesy and how do we measure what’s really going on, because, this is the data we got for July; we did three months of data and essentially what we’re seeing is that the lion’s share of the business is still print and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future, if not forever, but other platforms and formats are gaining scale. And when you look at the whole ecosystem and you leave out those others: video, mobile, web, desktop, laptop and digital; you leave out 35% of the business essentially. And when you look at the total pie, it was up 7.8% overall.
People say that the lion’s share of revenue and profit is in the print publications and I say, yes, that’s absolutely true for now. However, that is rapidly changing. Look at Meredith; Meredith is up to almost 20% of their revenue coming in from digital sources and that’s kind of an old school company. And it’s rapidly growing. The only proxy really for vitality, I would argue, for current health or future promise would be consumer demand. It’s certainly how brands like BuzzFeed are measured. And it’s also the only common currency among all media. In a world where you can’t define what makes television television, consumer demand is an important one.
So, what we did was we created Magazine Media 360 and essentially it’s an attempt to present a comprehensive picture of consumer demand for magazine brands. And in such, it captures print and digital editions; it captures websites, including desktop, laptop, mobile and video. Next, this month we’re going to release a social media report that’s separate, it doesn’t roll up into that because it’s a whole different animal.
What this does is make us the first-ever media to capture as an industry, basically the cross-platform demand by brand. No other industry does this. Television gives Nielsen ratings when they want to; they don’t give them as an industry, they don’t give them by brand and they certainly don’t give any revenue numbers. So, what we’ve done with this is capture that additional 35% which makes this a comprehensive and a consumer centric and really a more accurate barometer, if you will, of a company and an industry’s vitality.
But how do we figure out how to do this? Well, we decided we had to use third party reputable information, otherwise people would game it. You had to qualify it; you had to actually be multi-platform to qualify. So we used very reputable data from Nielsen, comScore and others and we had a very, very rigorous process about how to get the data and what to pull.
What we’ve essentially decided to do after consultations with many, many experts is we’re pulling, not page views, not traffic, but unique visitors and unique viewers and audience numbers. It’s a more conservative number and it gives us a more accurate picture.
So with third party data we’ve covered the whole pie and the story it tells is interesting. We have 95% industry buy-in, which essentially means we had 30 companies to buy-in and that represents 147 brands. We only had three brands not do it that qualified. One was the Shank titles, the other was a tennis magazine, mostly because they just didn’t respond to emails and the other is Wenner, because you have to also be a MPA member to qualify and there are only two major companies that aren’t, Wenner and Bauer, but it didn’t affect the numbers, even with them not in here, it covers 95% of the magazine reader universe and basically represents the entire industry.
The process works with all 147 brands giving their data to us and they pull it from comScore, Nielsen and other reputable companies. We then aggregate the data and post it publicly, so every single month we will post 147 brands and their consumer-demand number by platform and then a total aggregate 360 number. So it’s really an unprecedented model of transparency and it took an enormous amount of courage, if you ask me, from all these publishers. And we at the MPA will show the trends.
For the first one we launched publicly, it was August over August; we do the same period over the same period; what we saw was a 10% growth in total audience and we saw that was coming from mobile web, a lot of mobile web growth. And print, while it’s a smaller part of the pie, was actually up 1.1%, so it’s just a smaller part of a growing pie.
We’ll soon begin social media reports, which we’ll do toward the end of the month and the response was uniformly positive. Most importantly the advertising community and these are three of the biggest buyers representing three of the biggest agencies and every single one of them was applauding because the concept is you can’t sell what you can’t measure; you can’t sell it to a consumer and you can’t sell it to an advertiser. So, what we’ve done is thoroughly obvious; while it’s not easy to get everyone to agree, it’s obvious we should be capturing consumer-demand across all the platforms. And this is a very, very important indicator. The press was uniformly positive as well and I love what Mashable said because they’re always trashing magazines (laughs) and they said: if we assembled the study in an attempt to refute the assertion that magazine audiences are dwindling, the data vindicates them and that kind of said it all.
Also The Wall Street Journal said: magazine publishers can collectively point to some positive trends. Of course, we’re not saying that there aren’t problems because there certainly are, but we’re saying that the first step is to figure out what the consumers are doing, because there is no business if there isn’t consumer demand. And consumer demand is actually quite robust. Now this is not a report that shows everybody up, about 45 titles were down, so it’s pretty accurate.
That’s what this is all about. It’s really a reflection of how the business has changed, how we operate and how our content is consumed across multiple platforms. It’s the first step in capturing, measuring and communicating those reflections.
Samir Husni: I was just in Cannes at the Distripress Congress and my presentation was about “audience first.” And this is what Magazine Media 360 is saying: let’s focus on and be consumer centric. Why did we wait so long to do this?
Mary Berner: You know why? Because it’s really hard to get 147 brands and 30 CEO’s to agree. And I really didn’t wait that long, I’d been here two years and we got this done in six months. I also don’t think the industry was ready for it yet, I think we needed some critical mass in terms of multi-platform distribution content and frankly the third party research providers weren’t yet ready to get the data; so I think the time is right now.
The other question people ask is why don’t other media do it and my response is: they should. But it requires consensus, it requires industry consensus. And that’s a heavy lift.
Samir Husni: It’s as you said, magazine media is unlike any other medium, and you don’t get the same experience. If I’m watching a video, regardless of which platform, it’s the same video, where the magazine experience is completely different.
Mary Berner: All the content is created under a brand umbrella. So if I’m a Vogue person, the brand gives me permission to experience a whole lot of things under that umbrella. We’re the only media that’s actually set up well for that. CBS isn’t a brand. Other media are; I think ESPN is a brand; they actually do a great job at it.
Samir Husni: The new buzz phrase today is: print isn’t dead, it’s just in decline, but it’s still the cornerstone of our industry? Do you agree?
Mary Berner: I would say that print is a part of the consumer consumption experience, an extremely important part, but I would say that we haven’t told the story in regards to consumer demand up to this point. And when you do that, when you don’t tell the whole story, what fills that vacuum is a relentless and inaccurate story about one part of the business.
It’s inaccurate, like circulation. Everyone harps on newsstand. Newsstand is 8% of the total, 8%. And at its peak, 20 years ago, it was less than 20%. So there’s a kind of common narrative around print. Advertising paging over the last five years is down less than 8% in total. So, print has its challenges, but what isn’t even captured in those numbers is the migration of advertising dollars to other platforms. Therefore, it doesn’t tell an accurate story. We haven’t told an accurate advertising story or an accurate consumer-demand story yet.
Samir Husni: What do you think will be your major stumbling block? The honeymoon has been great, the reaction has been great; do you think it’s going to be smooth sailing from here or are you expecting some turbulence along the way?
Mary Berner: To be truthful, our attention in trying to figure out all the things that could and might go wrong ahead of time and addressing any and all challenges before we actually launched this, puts us in a position where we’ve asked and answered many of the stumbling blocks. Many of them had to do with methodology or transparency, things like that, so the only thing that I can imagine is maybe somebody won’t like their numbers.
I think the opportunity is that what we’ll see is a set of tools that will start people talking about it. How do we figure out how to use this to help us to buy?
Samir Husni: What are some of the criteria that you’re now going to use at The New York Times box score?
Mary Berner: It’s already changed. We’ve affected with this, just look at the numbers. They’re all up, two weeks in a row, a 100%. Let me tell you why The New York Times doesn’t use ad pages and why the entire industry was behind that, because it doesn’t tell an accurate story, by definition it tells an incomplete story. So, we don’t have something to replace that with, in terms of the advertising performance. We don’t, but until we do we have an obligation, in fact a responsibility, to stop reporting inaccurate data, because it is used to peg the vitality of an industry and it doesn’t do that. You could have had a spectacular PIB month and had a terrible advertising month. You could have had a terrible PIB month and a spectacular advertising month. It only captures the print performance. And as such, it’s just not comprehensive. And the reaction to that has been a little bit of, well, what am I going to use? But once I explain it to analysts and reporters, everybody gets it. You can’t argue with it, because it’s true.
Now what people will argue about is, they’ll say we need to get some replacement advertising data and what I’d like to remind the world of is, we’re the only industry that has released advertising data for decades as an industry. No other industry does it. We’ve been doing it and we’ve been doing it up to the point where it’s not accurate anymore. We had enormous transparency. Think about television, there’s no revenue numbers. They talk about the upfront when it’s good, but they don’t do it as an industry. Radio doesn’t, digital doesn’t; none of them do.
So we were in the forefront of transparency, but now that it’s not representative of the advertising performance of a brand, company or the industry, we have a responsibility to stop promoting and communicating it.
Samir Husni: You have a very nice feather in your cap now, so what’s next for Mary?
Mary Berner: This is just the beginning. I think it’s a good first step, but what we need to show is engagements, because we know from research in various companies the engagements in these brands of these multi-platform experiences are really extraordinary and that is a differentiator for magazine media and so, how do we do that? And I really wasn’t looking for a feather in my cap, I really wasn’t. (Laughs) But you can’t change the narrative about magazines until you start capturing and talking about magazine media. You have to start talking about the business the way the business is now.
Samir Husni: Thank you.