Magazine Accountability at Long Last

There was a news report recently released by Mediamark Research Inc. (MRI) that announced the company’s plans to begin testing a promising new technology that can literally print interactive microchips on any printed page. That technology (RFID) is already widely used in a variety of other everyday applications.

Using a process originally developed by the MIT Media Laboratory, MRI will begin testing whether RFID tags printed onto magazine pages can be used for magazine-audience measurement. That is an event of which the publishing business in the 21st century is sorely in need. For several years, we have suffered from a condition that I call “DBIA”—decreased belief in accountability.

RFID is one system that can help cure DBIA. RFID will also help in newsstand deployment, inventory and control of sales data. The advent of RFID is clearly the death of the UPC. RFID is a more eloquent and sophisticated weapon in the data wars.

The magazine and publishing industry is in desperate need for a face lift. The competition for the advertising dollar is getting harder and harder for routine maintenance, much less for sustained growth. What the publishing industry needs can be partially supplied by using RFID tagging applied during the printing process.

An experienced RFID insider once told me that it would be too hard to assimilate the data and digest the numbers into meaningful reports. I dismiss the observation that there is no infrastructure to secure and interpret all the data. That is a minor detail technology can overcome in the lifecycle of a single Intel chip.

If the government can track and tag the comings and goings of millions of cars on the turnpikes of America, then the magazine business of America can track and tag millions of magazine pages and readers.

Publishing at the Speed of Light

We are at technologic light speed now, leaving our once-beloved analog worlds and moving more rapidly into the digital universe. Even subjective concepts such as printed quality are now simply a number-crunching event. Just ask Time Inc. It has been doing it for over 15 years. Think about that for a second—subjective artistic-quality approval reduced to a numeric theory that works.

I accept the concept that RFID is going to radically change the landscape of the publishing system. The Audit Bureau of Circulations and BPA Worldwide will incorporate the process or be pushed aside by a more aggressive and more capable system. And RFID is just the beginning.

There are other leaps of technologic faith we must not miss on the near horizon. E-paper is just around the corner. And right behind e-paper is nanotech printing, using miniscule droplets of “nano-particle” inks. These technologies combined with the advent of national Wi-Fi distribution brings publishing into the 21st century and empowers publishers to compete with any other form of media.

Remember, don’t get hung up on the concept that being a publisher only means ink on paper. It does not. That is only part of the new publishing mantra. Our true franchise is information. Information that is reproducible in and on any format. The successful 21st century publisher knows that he is in the information-distribution business.

—Robert M. Sacks

Bob Sacks is a consultant to the printing/publishing industry and president

of The Precision Media Group ( He is also publisher and editor of an international, daily industry e-newsletter, “Heard on the Web.” Sacks has held posts as director of manufacturing and distribution, senior sales manager (paper), chief of operations, pressman, cameraman and corporate janitor.

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