‘The Economist’ Sets Digital Rate Base

Claims a first in magazine world

Print media buyers have been pushing publishers to give up more information about their digital editions as they try to assess a new medium. Now, The Economist is delivering on one of those buyer demands by being, it claims, the first to set a digital rate base.

The rate base of 50,000 is intended, like a print base, to increase advertisers’ confidence. It will take effect in January and appear on the newsweekly’s Consolidated Media Report, a year-old reporting tool from the Audit Bureau of Circulations that attempts to present a brand’s total footprint across print and digital platforms. (The ABC’s longstanding publisher’s statements don’t yet have a place for digital-only rate base claims.)

“We realized that transparency is important,” said David Kaye, vp of ad sales for The Economist, which planned to announce the rate base news on Sept. 25. “The agency community is asking for this.”

The Economist has well-established digital bona fides. In April, it reported having 48,000 digital subscriptions, or about 6 percent of its total circulation, which is on the high end for magazines. Since then, the magazine’s digital circulation has topped 50,000, Kaye said.

The new rate base will apply to the North American non-replica, subscription sales of The Economist that are read on the iPad, iPhone, Android devices and BlackBerry Playbook. It does not include single-copy sales, nor does it include Zinio, Nook and Kindle Fire versions, which are replica editions.

Having separate rate bases for print and digital is just what some media buyers want. They don’t want to be charged for digital copies they’re not buying, and they object to the practice by some publishers of folding digital circulation into print circ in order to make their print circulation guarantee.

“I get why they’re doing that; they’re trying to sell one circulation,” said Barry Lowenthal, president of The Media Kitchen. “But advertisers want to buy one channel’s audience.”

The move falls short of the performance-based data others are demanding, though.

“We are interested in data points that support key exposure and engagement metrics, including but not limited to, the number of single copies and subscribers, issues read/opened, time spent, number of pages viewed, ads viewed and more,” said Robin Steinberg, evp, director of publishing investment and activation, MediaVest. “I want to know if the impression was delivered (did the consumer view the ad), and what did they do as a result of it, based on agreed upon and defined [key performance indicators]. Knowing the copy was subscribed to or the single-copy issue was bought only doesn't equal accountability in the digital age."

As for filling out the picture, Kaye said The Economist is providing most of the information buyers have been asking for—and moving towards offering more.