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Initiation of field studies for M2 Magazine Metrics, a joint venture of Audits & Surveys Worldwide and Kantar Media Research, has been delayed for at least five months.

Meanwhile, in an industry hungry for a fresh approach to magazine readership measurement, advertisers, agency executives and publishers are curious to discover whether or not M2 will offer valuable new insight or just another way of counting heads.

The new methodology involves a variety of systems, including consumer feedback from mailed questionnaires, four-color magazine mock-ups and input from magazines' own subscribers.


The delay came when the U.S. Senate set aside tobacco legislation intended to control tobacco advertising affecting the teen market. The tobacco industry has thrown its support behind M2 in order to determine what magazines teens actually read.

Kantar is part owner in the Simmons Market Research Bureau, which produces the Study of Media & Markets. M2 and SMM will operate jointly, with M2 focusing solely on magazines and SMM considering a variety of media.

Before the emergence of M2, Simmons and Mediamark Research Inc., the leading print researcher, had a lock on the magazine audience research market. Both companies' methods are based on personal interviews.

M2 differs from the old research techniques in a number of key ways. For example, it will study an unlimited number of magazines, instead of just a couple of hundred titles. Not only will it measure more magazines, M2's mail-based system promises a larger audience sample size, which is expected to reduce sampling error.


The method also aims to be less expensive than the personal-interview system favored by MRI. Unlike MRI's study, which focuses on large-circulation books, M2 will study smaller, niche publications with less than 100,000 circulation. The new methodology strives to include more affluent readers.

Kantar CEO Paul Donato, who led the development of M2 while at Audits & Survey, reports that M2 has oral commitments from about 45 magazine clients so far.

The biggest challenge magazines face is that "we set rates on circulation, and the current, major [research] services can't reflect circulation gains or losses in their readership numbers," says Steve Blacker, senior VP-market research for Conde Nast Publications, which renewed its contract with MRI last year.


Says Mr. Blacker "[MRI] has value for what it is, it's not a magazine studyƁit's a marketing overview."

He acknowledges that MRI is "trying to make improvements, but you have flawed systems. They're not what they could be."

Mr. Blacker likes the fact that M2 focuses on magazines and includes smaller titles and newsstand buyers.

David Marans, senior partner-media research director at J. Walter Thompson USA, New York, says, "In an attempt to measure as many magazines as possible and provide the largest numbers possible, the magazine industry is relying on a recent reading method that is a sad commentary on research."

MRI CEO Allain Tessier says his company has addressed many of the complaints agencies and publishers have leveled against it over the years-most notably, by increasing its audience sample size 50%, to 30,000 from 20,000 a year. This, he hopes, will eliminate much of the sampling error.

"I'm not really sure the mail survey is a better measuring technique than the personal interview," says a research executive at a leading consumer magazine publisher who asked to not be identified. "There's less control about who's filling out the surveys and measuring as many people as they're trying to in one study is not feasible."

"I won't say we will never support it, but we would like to get some hard answers. I'm not sure it's a real contribution to the industry at this point-or just another competitor for the sake of competition."

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