Take the ABC Rapid Report being introduced by the Audit Bureau of Circulations for magazines cover-dated July. The voluntary system will allow publishers to report magazine circulation by issue within weeks of an issue's on-sale date -- but so far Meredith Corp. and American Media are the only big publishers to sign up.
Metrics overload for buyers
That means media buyers will be awash in fresh figures for titles such as Better Homes and Gardens and More from Meredith, but probably won't be able to compare them with, say, House & Garden or Vogue from Conde Nast Publications. Weeks-old stats will be available for American Media's Star, but not Wenner Media's Us Weekly.
"More transparency is better than less," said Jack Griffin, president, Meredith Publishing Group. "Let the chips fall where they fall."
Conde Nast declined to comment; Time Inc., the country's biggest publisher, hasn't decided what to do; and Wenner said it will not join in. Rodale said it intends to adopt Rapid Reports "in the near future."
Then there's Readership.com, which announced June 19 that the beta test of its print-ratings service had found higher audiences for most magazines than prevailing systems report. "The study also found that some magazines accumulate their audiences more rapidly than has previously been believed to be the case," said Rebecca McPheters, president, McPheters & Co., which is developing Readership.com.
Brad Adgate, senior VP-research, Horizon Media, echoed many media agency executives' warm welcome for the new tools, but said establishing standards will eventually become vital. "You don't want to have too many sets of different numbers out there," he said. "If you have one watch, you know exactly what time it is. If you have two watches, you're never quite sure."
Andrew Swinand, exec VP-group client leader at Starcom USA, said magazines don't have a choice but to risk a little confusion. "For print to survive in a digital age, it has to have more immediate reporting," he said. "It has to have a greater degree of accountability."
Now that everyone has jumped in with both feet, as Mr. Swinand put it, everyone will have to work on establishing the new industry standards.
In a sign of the potential conflicts among new services, Bauer Publishing said it is taking a wait-and-see approach toward Rapid Report -- but has an eager eye on the audience-accumulation tracking to be offered by Readership.com. "We're taking a much closer look at that," said Ian Scott, president, Bauer Advertising Sales.
Pushing for Rapid Report
Some advertisers are already making Rapid Report participation a requirement in requests for proposals, said David Leckey, exec VP-consumer marketing, American Media. "With Rapid Report we'll have the opportunity to show the world that we have a winner," he said. "We also have the opportunity to show the world that we have a loser."
Speedy issue-by-issue reporting may even reduce publishers' emphasis on rate base, or lead to the rise of seasonal or floating rate bases, Mr. Leckey added.
Then again, even though Jack Kliger is a rate-base critic and an advocate for better metrics, his Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S. is abstaining from Rapid Reports for the moment.
"We're favorably disposed to it," said Mr. Kliger, Hachette's president-CEO. "We're going to make a decision soon. We just want to take a look at it to make sure that's it's not only timely but well-done."