When you go to a meeting of magazine publishers, as I have just done, you hear innumerable references to the strong bond magazines have with readers and how advertisers don't give credit for the deep loyalty readers feel for their favorite magazines.
And then when the meetings are over the TV guys go out and sell TV time in carload lots. You want viewers in prime demographics, they've got 'em and they're selling them for a lower cost per thousand than you can get anywhere else. That's the way the system works, and TV delivers the goods in big numbers.
Magazine guys, after congratulating themselves for serving a noble purpose, forget all about those nice words when they get home and sell their readers to advertisers for whatever the market will bear-30%, 40%, 50% off their published rate cards.
Hence, those advertisers and their agencies are left with the impression that this "special connection" magazines have with their readers-if the magazine sales people even bother to talk about it-isn't worth very much in the open market.
Claeys Bahrenburg, head of Hearst Magazines and incoming chairman of the Magazine Publishers of America, decried the fact that "many of the new generation of numbers-oriented media buyers no longer look at the octane level of what they buy. They focus solely on the lowest price. We, as an industry, have fallen prey to the delusion of volume vs. value.
"We have permitted our industry to become commoditized. And we have no one to blame but ourselves. We must end the under-valuation of the audiences we deliver.
"We need to remember the power of the printed word, the importance of our readers and the sanctity of the contract we have with them. Otherwise, we will become little more than an advertising delivery system," Claeys reminded his fellow publishers.
I have the impression that for the last decade magazines were intent on emulating television as the low-cost advertising delivery system. They went all out to capture readers-any readers-at give-away subscription prices so they could offer their pages at CPMs competitive with network television.
Airlines are discovering that they can't be both a low-cost transportation provider and a full-service, full-rate carrier at the same time, and magazines should learn the same lesson.
Magazines provide something that television doesn't, and that's an editorial environment compatible with the products being sold in their pages. Nobody's denying that television commercials move products in big numbers, but television sales people don't pretend they do it in an environment that reinforces the advertising message.
Magazines haven't been able to make this point very effectively because they're too busy trashing each other's research. As General Motors Corp.'s Phil Guarascio put it, magazines "wind up fundamentally invalidating most competitive data," unlike the broadcasting media.
Added Procter & Gamble Co.'s Judy Beaudry: Negative selling on the part of magazines "bashing data sources opens up a whole can of worms." She also said there's a "huge crying need" for more and better magazine data, again available from broadcasters and on a more timely and accurate basis.
Jim Garrity of Compaq Computer Corp., contended that some magazines "are too focused on their rate bases. I prefer quality readers. The reader should pay more."
In many ways cost per thousand isn't a very effective way of gauging the value of magazine advertising. After all, the kind of quality readers Mr. Garrity wants would actually lower advertiser's out-of-pocket expenditure.
And magazines could spend more time talking about how they deliver prequalified buyers.
Television can't make that statement, and magazines can-that is, if magazine publishers really believe all that stuff we heard at their conference.