Thursday, March 17, 2011

High time for real time print measurement

The world continues to develop at a breakneck speed and nowhere is this more true than marketing and advertising. Every day marketers and their agencies make communications decisions. The old days of long term planning and buying are well behind us. Ongoing planning and optimisation in real time is increasingly the order of the day, and many clients now employ marketing dashboards to analyse marketing initiatives in real time.

The print medium, particularly newspapers, should be well placed in such an environment. Never have people interacted more with the content generated by our major mastheads, and yet the only story marketers get to hear is that newspaper and magazine circulations continue to decline. Yes that may be true of the print only version, but is it true of total circulation and readership across both print and digital content? Unlikely.

Unfortunately, the global development of print metrics to meet the requirements of a real time world has been positively glacial. In Australia, I started the discussions as then head of the MFA some seven years ago. Fortunately we have had some significant movement since then, but there is still a way to go.

It must be said that many people are now keen to make our print measurement as relevant as possible, and I feel more confident that real change is possible now more than ever before. The ABC executive and committee are enthusiastic and willing. The AANA and MFA both have dedicated teams prepared to help. The Newspaper Works has already moved forward with The Readership Works which will provide competition in Australia for the first time in a generation through the successful tenderer Ipsos. And at a meeting last week with The Newspaper Works’ new Chairman Greg Hywood and the board seemed keen to take on the challenge of more frequent circulation data for major newspapers.

We have already seen the introduction of quarterly circulation audit data for major newspapers and weekly magazines. Last week, The Newspaper Works also announced that newspaper publishers will start to report Monday to Friday day of week sales as part of their quarterly audits from July; another step in the right direction. A framework for the reporting of all digital sales has also been developed and will hopefully be voted on favourably by the ABC members for adoption later this year.

What is required now is the final move to circulation data for each publication, whether daily, monthly or quarterly. There may well be technical and cost difficulties with such a move, but a road map must be created now. No one is keen to impose unreasonable costs on publishers, so perhaps a combination of audits and voluntary reporting, co-ordinated through the ABC, might provide an answer.

The magazine publishers though are hesitant. In addition to cost and technical concerns, they argue that cover information is sensitive and publishing sales data for each issue dilutes competitive advantage. But is this really an argument? Surely they must already have a reasonable idea of competitors’ sales through their own tracking mechanisms. And don’t advertisers deserve to know how much each issue is circulating? Further, publishers could leverage more frequent data and move to a more dynamic pricing model based around higher selling issues.

More frequent readership reporting is also warranted. It is a nonsense to be using six monthly data for publications that are sold daily and weekly. New digital methodologies should allow us to start moving towards a more useable interval such as monthly reporting, hopefully something that The Readership Works and Ipsos is thinking through in addition to the incumbent Morgan.

Arguably newspaper and magazine content is as dynamic now as it ever was. You only need to witness the huge appetite for news around the extraordinary number of recent world disasters. What a shame that the print industry has not been able to capitalise on this upswing in news interest with real time measurement data. Yes, it’s high time that print measurement got real time.

Written by John Sintras for and published 17.03.11

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