Magazine Metrics Expand Beyond Ad Pages to Digital

Monthly report from the MPA will measure 147 periodicals' reach beyond print

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For decades, ad pages were one of the key metrics for gauging the overall health of a magazine. But as magazine brands have come to encompass more than just a printed product, publishing industry insiders have been looking for new data that better reflect those changes. This week MPA–The Association of Magazine Media is officially rolling out a new brand audience report called Magazine Media 360° that will measure periodicals’ reach beyond the printed page.

The new report, which the MPA will release monthly, includes audience data for 147 different magazine brands across print and digital editions, desktop sites, mobile and video. Beginning in October, the MPA will also publish a separate report tracking magazines’ audiences on social media platforms including Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Google+. All data will be collected by third-party groups like GfK MRI, Ipsos, comScore, Nielsen Online and SocialFlow.

The MPA has also quietly phased out its ad page reports from the Publishers Information Bureau, which for years had been released monthly until shifting in 2007 to a quarterly frequency. In recent years, the reports were a regular harbinger of doom that showed the steady decline of the print ad market. The new Magazine Media 360°, on the other hand, paints a much brighter picture for the industry. In August 2014 alone—the first month to be reported—the audience for magazine media grew 10 percent year over year.

“It tells a considerably different story about magazine consumption—that the industry is up and growing—because it’s not just one channel anymore,” said Mary Berner, CEO and president of the MPA. She asserted, however, that the new 360° report isn’t an effort to distract from disappointing ad pages. “We’re not trying to figure out how to play it so everyone looks good,” she said. “Many brands will see increases in the new reports, but some will still be down.” The MPA will also be looking into new methods of reporting ad revenue numbers across platforms, she added, noting that only about 20 percent of magazine advertisers buy print-only.

The reaction among media buyers has been positive. “This is something that was definitely needed and, frankly, is driven by how much the magazine publishers have transformed the way they’re doing business,” said Brenda White, evp, managing director at Starcom. “We’ve seen this data before but trying to cobble it all together is a challenge. Now, to have in our hands what People magazine looks like across all of its different platforms is going to be very helpful to us.”

According to George Janson, managing partner and director of print at GroupM, the end of the PIB ad pages won’t be a particularly big loss, either. “It’s anachronistic to only look at ad pages as a measure of vitality,” he said. “A magazine could be down in ad pages and up in total revenue, and someone will read that they’re down in ad pages and get a distorted view of that brand.”

@adweekemma Emma Bazilian is Adweek's features editor.