A new study that shows a major decline in magazine audiences--and fingers Internet usage as the culprit--is drawing fire from publishers.
The report, from Leo Burnett Co.'s Starcom media buying unit, says magazines lost 61 million readers 18-to-49 years old from their total audience during a one-year period. The report, to be posted today on Starcom's Web site, suggests many of the readers have abandoned print in favor of the Internet.
An analysis by the media agency of Mediamark Research Inc.'s syndicated audience data found magazine audiences shrank by 5.9% in one year for the 18-to-49 demographic. While 56 of the magazines in the fall '98 MRI report gained 18 million adult impressions compared to the previous fall, another 144 titles lost 79 million, a net loss of 61 million adult impressions.
But magazine industry research executives blasted the report last week. They said it misrepresents the true state of magazine readership, and some attacked the methodology used to arrive at conclusions they characterized as damaging.
`BE VERY CAREFUL'
"I'd be very careful about making the conclusions that they have made based on the data they presented," said Wayne Eadie, VP-research, Reader's Digest Association. "It's shortsighted to do this kind of analysis on so few points of data without really looking at the much wider perspective."
Among the questions raised: why Starcom only looked at one year's worth of data; and why it did not analyze the role that audience declines at other major media, such as broadcast TV, have played in the Internet's rise.
"There's nothing wrong with the way [Starcom] looked at data, but the hypothesis they draw is nothing more than a hypothesis. It's not a truth," said David Arpin, VP-client services and product development for MRI.
Christine Miller, VP-marketing for the Magazine Publishers of America, noted that MRI measures just 230 magazines while Audit Bureau of Circulations now tracks more than 900 of the thousands of titles published in the U.S.
"MRI doesn't capture the real dynamics of what is happening with magazines," Ms. Miller said. "It may just be the readers are shifting from the top 50 to more targeted ones, but are still shifting within magazines. With the increased number of titles, readers can appear to be lost because we have no way of seeing where they are going to because the majority of magazines are not measured by Starcom or by MRI."
Starcom Media Research Supervisor Bill Denneen, who authored the report, said Starcom did not look at other major media because its goal was to track the decline in magazine audience figures. The report only uses data from one year because "the Web has only been substantial for two years." he said.
Some publishers said they worry Starcom--which buys more than $550 million in print ads annually for such major marketers as Procter & Gamble Co. and Philip Morris USA's Marlboro--will use the report to squeeze more concessions at the negotiating table. It may be a valid fear.
"In the short term, it's not really going to have a huge impact on how we buy print," said Mr. Denneen. "But magazines that lost the most audience will be questioned about what rates they can charge."
Copyright March 1999, Crain Communications Inc.