The controversy began earlier this summer when a Magazine Publishers of America draft report questioning some Simmons research methods was leaked to the media. The resultant hubbub has kept the normally staid world of media research buzzing.
Conde Nast President Steve Florio last week would neither confirm nor deny the magazines were pulling out of Simmons. Other top executives at the company said the decision was made shortly before the annual Simmons research reports were released in July. But they said the move had nothing to do with the criticism in the MPA draft.
"It was a business decision, made for budgetary reasons," said a Conde Nast insider.
Conde Nast Traveler will continue to use Simmons, as will The New Yorker and Parade. The latter two are owned by Advance Publications but are not in its Conde Nast unit.
Last year, Simmons lost Hearst Magazines as a client, and that shaded Conde Nast's thinking.
Ten Conde Nast titles were flat to down in ad pages through July. Stripping them of the Simmons research reports was just another in the cost cutting moves instituted by Mr. Florio since he came to power earlier this year.
The lost Conde Nast business has been estimated at about $750,000, about the same amount as Hearst moved from Simmons last year. But that does not mean the two rivals have forsaken syndicated research entirely. Both still use Mediamark Research Inc. surveys.
The other immediate concern facing Simmons is the MPA study.
"The MPA is concerned because Simmons added a lot of qualitative questions in 1991 which they feel may have affected the interview process," said one magazine research executive.
The number of people Simmons screens has remained static, while the percentage of those screened who say they are magazine readers has increased. Some question how the read-to-screen ratio can be up when magazine readership in general is stagnant.
"The MPA, now that they have dug up this body, has to figure out what they are going to do with it," said the magazine research executive.
But another knowledgeable magazine executive said another motive is involved.
"My feeling is that there is an agenda here and it is anti-Simmons. I think there is a very significant political component to what is going on."
The report was co-authored by Donald McGlathery, director of media research at Petersen Publishing and head of the MPA technical committee. He left Simmons in 1978 when it merged with his then employer, Target Group Marketing.
Simmons President Ellen Cohen said the MPA committee "skewed the deck to make it look like Simmons had problems rather than looking at the whole thing fairly."
Mr. McGlathery said, "I have no vendetta. We need competition in this business. It is too bad it's taken a personal turn." He said the MPA draft also raised concerns about some of the MRI numbers, but MRI officials dealt with the questions.
Ms. Cohen said Simmons is hesitating about going to the next proposed meeting of the MPA technical committee on Oct. 5.
She said she would like the MPA to appoint an independent consultant to draw up the report's final version.
The trade association is willing to do that, if the cost is footed by MRI and Simmons, said James Guthrie, MPA exec VP-marketing development. Simmons is apparently agreeable but MRI is not.
Said an ad agency executive who did not want to be quoted, "I'd say we're perplexed. Hundreds of millions of dollars of decisions are based on using these services. Maybe one side will be vindicated. Maybe they will both end up being half right."