In Circulation: Timeliness, transparency help circ measurement keep pace with other media

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Audit rules approved by the Audit Bureau of Circulations board last week seem to mark a trend in circulation measurement: faster, more precise reports that bring print audits closer to the sort of metrics used by other media. The ABC's new rules were intended to simplify current audit rules and make audit reports more useful to advertisers and publishers.

Key to this new push for usefulness was the change ABC made to its Rapid Report guidelines. Publishers using Rapid Report — an online tool for recording audience numbers issue-by-issue — are now being asked to post initial post-issue readership projections within three weeks of a weekly title's on-sale date. Monthly publishers should post within seven weeks.

“It's a much more on-demand world today,” said Kammi Altig, manager of communications at ABC. “People in the Internet age do expect information more quickly, and it certainly makes the print industry more competitive and more comparable with other media industries.”

By speeding up the process, ABC is making print audience reports more comparable to the more regularly-posted numbers provided by TV, Web sites and other media. Such information is expected to raise print's standing in a marketplace where ad buyers consider and compare multiple media platforms. It is important to note, however, that Rapid Report measures circulation, while other media measure audience — a difference that makes comparisons between the two an apples-to-oranges exercise.

Robin Steinberg, SVP, director, print investment and activation for MediaVest USA, added, “The simple answer is yes, it does make print more competitive, that's why we developed these reporting guidelines. As a medium we need more timely data and we need to understand the data earlier rather than later. It's really about transparency, and I think publishers will benefit by being more transparent on a timely basis.”

A new MPA initiative unveiled by president/CEO Nina Link two weeks ago sought similar effects. MPA proposed new audience-based metrics that measure different audience demographics and engagement with ads.

“A key item was to become faster in our measurement and more comparable to the way other media are measured and more accountable,” Link said.

A tangential, but no less important, effect of the MPA changes is that better consumer metrics may allow circ marketers to deploy more targeted campaigns. And with numbers coming in on a timelier basis, marketers will be better able to judge how audiences respond to a magazine on an issue-by-issue basis.

Like ABC, the Magazine Publisher's Association is making improved online survey techniques a major focus in its reworking of the audience reporting process.

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