MPA trumpets new research that proves magazines’ commercial mettle

While the quarterly circulation and readership numbers offer a glimpse at the state of the magazine industry—and specific titles—at a moment in time, the Magazine Publishers’ Association is trying to change the conversation and draw attention to the strength of the medium as an advertising channel. And it’s aiming to do just that by talking to the industry about the results of a recent piece of research. 

The MPA’s commercial director Katrina Horton says the research, which was split into heads, hands and hearts, has been taken to the country’s media agencies recently as part of the Magazine Engagement Roadshow and she says it’s been very well received.

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She says the general feeling from those who were given the spiel was that the results confirmed what they intuitively knew, but “it’s great to have some robust research to back that up”, she says. The results also confirmed publishers’ suspicions that magazines influence purchase behaviour more than other media. 

“We’ve allowed ourselves over the years to get sucked into a reach argument and that’s not the main strength of the medium,” she says. “Magazines are trusted and it’s about tipping people into purchase.”

The research showed 68 percent of magazine readers will buy something as a result of reading a magazine (and, while it seems high, that 63 percent of people will talk to someone else about an ad). And Horton says this is the highest of any media. TV, by comparison, is at 42 percent and radio was 30 percent.

“TV does a great job of raising awareness. But the truth is each media channel has its particular strength. Having a cost per thousand discussion across every media channel is nonsensical. It’s not all about reach. These days working across channels is more important than ever, so it’s about understanding the roles of those channels.”

She says the research showed that readers see magazines as friends. And that relationship flows through to the advertising. 

“There’s very much a feeling among readers that the magazine is giving those advertisers an endorsement,” she says. “What the research has showed is that if people have an interest in a certain area, if the ads are relevant they’ll be interested in the ad content as well as the editorial.”

Horton points to an oft-cited example of this phenomenon, Vogue, where the ads are practically seen as part of the editorial. This is evident with many other high-end fashion titles as well, and while it’s tough to imagine an ad for baked beans in one of the weeklies having the same appeal, she says the logic of ads in relevant environments being more powerful applies to all titles. 

“The best you can hope for is ‘I don’t mind the ads in magazines’,” she says, and the research showed that readers don’t mind them as much as they do on TV or radio.

By adding Nielsen’s Homescan data, it also showed that those with a magazine in their basket spend much more than those who didn’t and it also showed that mag ads are better than TV at driving online research.  

When it comes to brand endorsements, it doesn’t get much better than an editorial mention. And publishers have recognised the appeal of this to brands, employing a range of methods to get them in front of readers without traditional ads.

“The reality is that integrated content is becoming important. Advertising alone doesn’t cut it anymore. I think it’s the layered approach that’s necessary now. Most do that quite well and we’re recognising that as an important area from a revenue perspective.”

There does seem to be a lingering perception that magazines are struggling, however. And there’s no doubt the numbers have been trending downward for print products in recent years. Ad spend has remained fairly stable, but she says the current system of reporting on readership and circulation numbers is doing the sector a disservice because it’s so one-dimensional. 

“Just looking at these numbers is such a blunt instrument.” 

She says it has done a lot of work in this area. The Print Media Industry Research Review Group put the contract out to tender a few years ago and worked closely with Nielsen to ensure the techniques used for gathering readership metrics were robust. There was demand from advertisers and agencies for something better and Nielsen’s CMI is now considered a world-leading system that is able to put greater emphasis on some of the engagement metrics for specific titles. 

While it worked closely with the newspaper sector for the PMIRRG, it is increasingly trying to distance itself from the term ‘print’, because it feels magazines are being lumped in with newspapers when they actually serve quite different purposes.

“We don’t want to be having the print conversation,” she says. And that’s not just because it wants to avoid the ‘print is dead’ scenario, but “because magazines these days are more than just print”. 

“There’s work going on right now around how we can best measure readership across platforms because at the moment print numbers alone don’t reflect the level of engagement readers have across social media, EDMs, websites, digital versions. But there are a lot of questions that need to be answered.”

There are also questions about ROI. She admits measureability is still an issue for magazines. And online has long claimed to be better able to measure interaction with ads (whether or not those interactions change purchase behaviour is another matter, of course). But that’s something the whole industry needs to work on, she ways. 

She says tablet versions are still in their infancy here and she believes New Zealand is about 18 months behind Australia on that front. But that will change and it does offer publishers some potential, despite some fairly harrowing recent stats that showed just three percent of total US magazine circulation came from digital versions and one third of that was from one title.

While she believes it will become a more valued channel over time, and “there’s an argument that consumers don’t know what they don’t know until you’ve given it to them”, it’s still crucial to look at what they want right now and she points to a recent study in the US that showed 73 percent of readers still preferred their magazines in print format. 

She says the way the MPA has worked together has been of huge benefit to the sector. In Australia, there has been no singular focus, little co-operation and plenty of competition between the major players. There is still plenty of competition in the local industry (although if Bauer gets approval for its APN NZ acquisition, there will be slightly less of it) but there has also been a realisation that if the sector hopes to grow, it needs to take share from other media channels, continue to improve in the growth area of content integration and, because some brands have a fixed percentage of their budget dedicated to digital, ensure its sales people get better at selling digital solutions. 

She says there is no specific target to steal share from—although Bauer has successfully focused on convincing some of the smaller-spending TV advertisers to move their budgets to magazines—but it really does want to get a bigger slice of the digital pie.

She recognises that media agencies play a key role in ensuring that happens as they’re the first point of contact and main decision makers (direct work is a growing segment, however, and not just in magazines). So that is its main focus. But there are other stakeholders it hopes to engage with in the future. 

As James Hurman pointed out, magazine ads in New Zealand aren’t of a particularly high standard and young creatives possibly don’t tend to see it as an appealing medium, so it has plans to engage with the creative community and she says clients also need to be updated on how magazines are evolving. 

“We’re doing a lot of work on trying to change perceptions. But if nothing else, it’s good to have something like this research out there to remind people about where the medium is still strong.” 

The MPA’s four main points from the research: 

1. We choose our magazines the way we choose our friends, so trust develops 

2. Focused time is given to reading, which means readers are highly engaged 

3. Shared interests and trust results in a more receptive advertising environment 

4. This in turn drives action, resulting in research, WOM and sales

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