How to Speed Up Magazine Research: RFID Chips

But Privacy and Technical Concerns Push Back Time Frame

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The theme wasn't quite "Mission Accomplished" at today's magazine research symposium in New York, but it could have been "Getting There."
David Verklin, CEO, Carat Americas, styled the day -- presented by Carat and Meredith Corp. in partnership with Advertising Age -- as a celebration of magazines' adaptability and resourcefulness in the face of challenges on all sides. From consolidation at clients, agencies and media companies to globalization to the advent of new technology, the magazine business has its hands full trying to grow, he said. "It is uncomfortable at times," he said. "But no one can argue that the business isn't dynamic."

Research takes flight
Research efforts from media agencies, publishers and others have quickly -- almost abruptly -- taken full flight, Mr. Verklin said. "It's a little bit like 'Revenge of The Nerds,' isn't it?" he said.

The presenters that followed talked up attempts to deliver magazine metrics more quickly, pressing the industry to develop passive measurement tools that would determine a single issue's audience without the use of surveys and sampling.

"Will print be left out of media plans if it isn't measured passively?" asked Jay Mattlin, VP-research for new ventures, Mediamark Research Inc. "The hope for doing this lies with RFID," he said, referring to a plan to embed radio frequency identification chips into magazine issues to track when they are read and by who.

Chip prototype up and running
The problems with RFID, however -- including concerns over privacy, the cost of each chip, the large size of an effective chip -- mean the industry won't see passive measurement using them any time soon. But Mr. Mattlin said the company has hired TagSense in Cambridge to try to develop cheap chips that could even track how long individual pages are open in a magazine. One prototype already works in a lab setting.

Roberta McConochie, who was there as a representative of Project Apollo, the Arbitron-VNU joint venture, is also trying to achieve near-passive measurement of magazine consumption. This year and next, Project Apollo is performing limited field tests of second-generation prototypes that involve placing tags in magazines. The team will give a substantive update at the ARF Media Symposium on June 22.

Research consultant Rebecca McPheters said Readership.com, her effort to provide rapid audience data for magazines, will end beta testing in the next few weeks and seek accreditation from the Media Rating Council next year.

And in a development more likely to please advertisers than magazine editors, Hall's Reports said it will begin selling syndicated counts of brand mentions across more than 100 magazines by January.

More than metrics
But accountability is not all about better metrics, other panelists argued. Creative execution matters at least as much as a magazine's audience, they said, presenting before-and-after examples of print ads that were changed after pre-testing.

Nina Link, president-CEO, Magazine Publishers of America, said during her concluding remarks that she was "thrilled" by that panel.

Jack Griffin, president, Meredith Publishing Group, said the day started looking beneath the surface -- the official theme of the symposium -- but wound up looking under the hood. That was a good thing, he said. "I subscribe to a quaint notion that it is a lot easier and more interesting to try to create the future," he said, "than it is to try to predict it."
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