From paper to pixels and everything in between: the MPA changes its definition of magazines

  • Media
  • April 1, 2016
  • Holly Bagge
From paper to pixels and everything in between: the MPA changes its definition of magazines

Since the earliest examples of magazines began appearing in the 17th century, a printed product has defined the medium. But with technological advancements and the proliferation of all that is digital, magazines now focus on much more than ink on paper. So, in response, the Magazine Publishers Association (MPA) has removed the term "periodical" from its definition of a magazine and also removed the requirement for members to have ABC audited circulation in an effort to remain relevant to publishers old and new. 

At a meeting last week, the Magazine Publishers Association board sat around table and had a passionate discussion about the changing face of magazines. The rules that define membership of the MPA had not been reviewed for some years. In fact, it’s possible they might not have been reviewed since incorporation in 1982, so the board decided it was high time it aligned membership criteria more accurately to the current world of publishing.

“If you look at the history of the MPA it was formed in August 1982 and it was formed because the magazine industry in New Zealand felt it needed to have a unified voice to sit around the tables with the advertisers and the press council and also having a voice around media at the time with ABC auditing and readership,” says MPA executive director Pip Elliott.

“Over the years the MPA has been, and still is a huge supporter of these organisations but we felt that we also needed to broaden our scope,” she says. “We also recognised that our members’ businesses had changed quite dramatically over the last ten years and it was really important that the MPA membership rules reflected the business models that our members were adopting.”

Elliott says the MPA recognises that print has always been seen as an important part of the magazine industry, but the rules have been redefined.

“How you treat content must be in a magazine-type content approach,” she says. “In other words, we won’t allow catalogues to be part of our membership and it is truly a move to look at understanding the very many touchpoints across many different platforms that magazines have with their readers.”

So, essentially, as long as publications are producing strong editorial content and journalism, they can be deemed as magazines.

Though most have been onboard with the decision, she says one of the main concerns raised has been about the decision to move away from supporting ABC’s auditing.

“We will always support metrics and we sit around committees and we are heavily involved in developing metrics to give our customers and advertisers a better understanding of the market, and we will continue to be rigorous about supporting robust numbers about how our different magazines are tracking.”

Instead the MPA has asserted it’s strengthened its code of ethics and introduced a mechanism that allows any member to challenge another’s audience claims if they believe they could be false.

A similar vein of thinking was relayed by the ASA recently when it made the decision not to release its ad spend figures, with ASA chief executive Hilary Souter saying in a world where many media companies are operating across platforms, a sector breakdown of media revenue has become more complex.

“A number of sectors release their own figures and the ASA has agreed it is time to step away from providing this service,” she said.

Elliott says the MPA did release its ad spend revenue and it has always considered its commercial spend, excluding circulation as part of the magazine brand.

“And we have always looked at whether it be online, print, social events anything like that is tied up with spend,” she says. “So we have consistently viewed that as being collated to magazines and when you look at trying to split it up, with the move to far more content marketing, we don’t tend to split it up as we are moving across numerous platforms and touchpoints to resonate with readers for our clients. So this concept of what’s online, what’s print and what’s social, we don’t necessarily view it like that. We view it under the magazine media umbrella, we will always collect our data like that and always have.”

Dykzeul also said earlier the MPA consolidates its revenue across all platforms, rather than attributing its digital earnings to the interactive category.

Elliott says the MPA recognises circulation aren't the only touchpoints magazines use to engage with their readers, and the ways to engage with readers now are vast.

“Whether it be readers asking to subscribe to newsletters, social media engagement through different platforms or experiential events that magazine brands have to engage with their readers.”

She gives NZ Geographic’s Photographer of the Year competition as an example of magazine engagement going beyond the confines of a printed title.

“What we are really saying is that the rules are starting to recognise that magazine media operates over many, many platforms and some may not have print as one of those platforms and we will see many of our members go out of print, but we will see other members go into print,” she says. “So, I think you will see different magazine brands decide what is the reader contact or touchpoint that will resonate most with that group, and I think you will see a lot of changes in that direction.”

MPA chair and Bauer Media publisher Paul Dykzeul says the decision reflects the ever-changing face of the way media companies operate.

“Where a lot of industry associations are struggling for relevance, the MPA has been a very vibrant bunch of people and a very collegial and cooperative bunch. The executives felt it was time to make sure that we are moving with the times,” he says.

“We’re doing stuff that we never would have contemplated doing three, five years ago and a lot of our businesses are shifting into actively being involved in the digital space and a lot of people are doing terrific things in the magazine space but fall outside that category, so it’s really just making sure we are relevant and modern and reflecting the changes in the market.”

He says though there has been talk about the relevance of traditional media, it’s still as important as ever.

“Newspapers and magazines have made extraordinary steps in the right direction of digital, but a hell of a lot of the content that goes onto the digital platforms is content that’s been generated essentially for the print component of our business, which we still get paid for.”

Dykzeul says people continue to debate about where content comes from, who’s paying and who’s creating it.

“At the moment it’s fair to say in magazine and print a lot of the content will come about because people are prepared to pay for it. Take magazines like Dish, Idealog, The Listener and North and South. There are still an awful lot of people who will go and buy a copy because they believe they are getting quality journalism, and that appears on a digital space but people have had to pay for it in the first instance.”

He also says there’s some terrific digital-only magazines out there (The Spinoff, for example, which gloated impressively about its swag of Canon Award finalist nominations, classifies itself as an 'online magazine').

“And the craft is the same as what we [in print] do. We have magazines in our trader business, which is part of our total business and digital is way more significant than the print side,” he says.

“But if you take a magazine like Auto Trader, historically it was a very substantial print magazine and now it’s a very big digital business.”

The word ‘community’ is a good way to describe the two-way flow of information between a media product and its audience, something that has been made easier in the digital world. And the experiential initiatives Elliott described also fit into this category of creating a brand community through various touchpoints.

Dykzeul says community has always been important.

“Magazines have used the word community long before it got popularised by the digital people,” he says. “A lot of that stuff the magazine industry has been talking about for years, but because it’s the magazine industry [and didn’t used to be digital], no one has talked about it as seriously as it is now.” 

The money certainly isn't flowing quite as freely from print as it once was. And many 'traditional' media companies are struggling to adapt their models in These Difficult Times (for example, The Guardian, one of the world's most popular websites, is losing around £1 million a week). But the MPA is doing its best to move with the times. 

MPA announcement:

"The rules that define membership of the MPA have not been reviewed for some years. In fact, it is possible they have not been reviewed since incorporation in 1982.

Triggered by the MPA Board view that the ABC auditing had evolved to become just one of a range of legitimate options for measuring magazine readership, reach and engagement in this contemporary media era, a broader review of membership criteria was undertaken.

The ambition of the board was to align membership criteria more accurately to the current world of publishing as well as provide (as best we can) a structure that would allow a certain amount of future proofing. In addition, the intent is also to reflect the advocacy/outward focus of the MPA in contrast to its historical trade association/inward focus.

While there has been a tidy up of language and a few tweaks around the margins to allow for a slightly revised membership structure, the two fundamental changes are.

Remove the requirement to have ABC audited circulation to be a member        
A change in the definition of a magazine to include all formats of publishing and remove the requirement that a magazine is a “periodical”.

Our position is that the way “magazines” build communities of interest is a function of the type of media we create and the deep relationship we have with these communities, as distinct from the platform we choose to publish on. Whilst we all agree that print has incredible strengths, we do not wish to be defined by print or be limited to how we, our advertisers and our readers perceive magazine media.

Some may be concerned about the removal of the ABC requirement as this has long been seen as a way of demonstrating credibility of audience measurement and the maintaining of standards. To mitigate this, we have strengthened a member’s requirements to abide by all the relevant Acts of Parliament that protect both customers and clients under the MPA Code of Ethics and introduced a mechanism that allows any member to challenge another’s audience claims should they believe they are false.  The fact that print does not define a magazine under the new definition also has the effect of rendering ABC circulation redundant as a membership criteria.

In summary, we believe we have struck a balance that allows for a broader view of magazines while retaining the unique value we provide to our commercial partners and audiences. This strengthens MPA’s advocacy role in the market and makes us more relevant to more publishers."

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