MediaVest Battles Over Digital Editions

Powerful media buyer Robin Steinberg puts her foot down

Media buyers have been grousing over an auditing rule change that made it easier for magazines to count their iPad and other digital editions toward their rate base guarantee to advertisers. And now, MediaVest’s Robin Steinberg has put her foot down.

In a letter sent to publishers April 29, Steinberg, one of the most powerful media buyers in the business, says that MediaVest won’t unquestioningly accept advertising rates for its clients based on a circulation number that includes digital editions.

Digital copies have accounted for a tiny portion of overall circulation, but that share is growing fast, as they’ve become a cheap and convenient way for publications to distribute copies and meet their guarantees to advertisers. But as publishers like Condé Nast, Hearst and Meredith deliver more of their copies on tablets, buyers have gotten increasingly concerned about the value of digitally-delivered ads. Those concerns only grew after the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the arbiter of paid circulation, in March relaxed its definition of digital editions, saying an ad in the print edition need not be identical to what appears in the digital version for a copy to count towards a magazine’s rate base.

Steinberg, who controls ad spend for massive clients like Kraft and Walmart, said the rule change is a step in the right direction as publishers evolve their business model. But she said that there are too many questions about the value of ads served digitally. “We don't believe digital copies should automatically count,” Steinberg said. “We need to know what the value is. We need additional information on who received it, did they open it, how long did they spend with it.”

Publishers’ own research has shown that consumers expect ads on the iPad to be enhanced, and not just a static replica of the print version. And one reason the tablet market has failed to take off for publishers is because advertisers have been reluctant to spend on a platform without getting readership data about it. As publishers’ planned digital distribution grows, it looks like conversations between buyer and seller are going to get more complicated, not less. Indeed, many media buyers are flatly of the opinion that “replica” circulation is almost entirely worthless.

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