Reader study to plug 35-year gap

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A dozen media companies and ad agencies have pledged to support Mediamark Research Inc.'s latest study, which will -- for the first time in 35 years -- measure when a magazine's audience is most likely to read a current issue.

Conde Nast Publications, despite past public criticism of the research company, has become the first publishing house to endorse MRI's newest project, familiar to media buyers and media companies as an audience accumulation study.

"We're a magazine company that prides itself on providing the most information available. This is a needed planning tool, and that's why we're supporting it," said Steven Blacker, senior VP-market research at Conde Nast. Of his earlier criticisms of MRI, which include a public "firing" of MRI in 1996, Mr. Blacker said, "There's no question there is a need for improvement in syndicated research; but the fact that we don't have a perfect system shouldn't preclude us from taking action."

Agency executives agreed new data absolutely are needed.

"We don't know how magazine audiences are distributed by week, and we ought to have it," said Helen Johnston, VP-director of media analysis for Grey Advertising's Mediacom, New York.

CONDE NAST: NOT ALONE

Conde Nast is one of several companies that have pledged to buy the research when the first wave is compiled, which MRI executives hope will be sometime next summer. Other publishers that have said they will purchase the research include Kiplinger's, National Geographic, Parade, Walking and Woman's Day. Agencies on board include Advanswers, BBDO Worldwide, Carat North America, Grey Advertising, Jordan McGrath Case & Partners/Euro RSCG, Ogilvy & Mather, Optimum Media and True North Communications.

The TV industry's audience information already is organized into weekly surveys that media buyers then use to plan an advertising schedule. The study is an attempt to quantify week by week when a magazine's readers see each issue. Media buyers, using the new MRI magazine data, will be able to more accurately compare a magazine's reach with that of TV.

Readership studies for magazines for the past three decades have focused on who the readers were, not when they were reading. The last time a national study was done to measure the weekly audience of leading magazines was in the late 1960s.

"We do look at magazine audience accumulation currently for a couple of our clients, but the research curves are based on old and fairly sketchy data. With this new study, we'll be able to be more accurate and have a greater confidence level in the data they are producing," said Judy Vogel, VP-associate media research director at BBDO, New York.

ANOTHER STUDY

A joint venture between Audits & Surveys and Kantar Media Research has produced an initiative to do a similar readership study, but industry executives said it is not as far along as MRI's.

Conde Nast's Mr. Blacker, one of the most fervent supporters of the joint venture's earlier initiatives, said: "We're not going to have two competing services. MRI has locked this up to a certain degree. The challenge will be for MRI to listen to the needs and the suggestions of the community."

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