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A magazine is a periodical publication, usually paperbound or accessed online, that contains written pieces (such as stories, essays, editorials, news reports, advice columns, poems or reviews), visual features (such as photos, cartoons or illustrations) and advertisements. Most readers subscribe to magazines, purchase them over the counter or download a copy.

Advertisers, which often seek the largest number of readers in making buys, sometimes are more attracted to magazines with lesser circulation numbers when those periodicals appeal to a particular population of consumers the advertisers wish to target. Different magazines reach different geographic areas, offering advertisers access to multinational, pan-regional, national, regional, state and local readerships.

In addition to geographic classifications, advertisers select magazines according to the types of readers that those periodicals serve. Consumer magazines, such as People, are purchased for pleasure. Some consumer magazines target by gender: Maxim and Men's Health target a male audience, while Elle and Cosmopolitan appeal to a female readership. Still other consumer magazines target readers interested in particular lifestyles or hobbies (e.g., Field & Stream and Soldier of Fortune). Some consumer magazines serve a specific ethnic group-for example, Ebony, which addresses an African-American audience; others are aimed at age-defined market segments, such as teen-age girls (Seventeen), senior citizens (Modern Maturity) or children (Sesame Street).

Business magazines (trade papers, industrial magazines and professional journals) serve those involved in particular industries or business sectors. Every industry has at least one trade paper, often published by its trade association; examples include Chain Store Age and Progressive Grocer. Industrial magazines, such as InfoWorld, which serves computer and computer-related manufacturers and major users, provide information of interest to manufacturers and industry groups. Professional journals are of interest to well-defined groups of professionals, such as accountants, architects, advertisers, doctors, engineers, lawyers and purchasing agents.

Farm magazines, such as Farm Journal, reach broad categories of farmers. Niche magazines—for example, Peanut Farmer—serve smaller, specialized segments.

Special features

Magazines offer a number of special features to advertisers, such as split run, gatefold, spread and center spread, full position, insert capability and bleed. In a split run, an advertiser places two or more different print advertisements, equal in size, for the same product, in the same position and same issue of a magazine and then the magazines containing the various versions are distributed in equal numbers within the same geographic area. Thus, a split-run provides the advertiser with a "real-world" test of the relative effectiveness of different versions of copy, offers or other specific variables in the ad.

A spread occupies two full facing pages as a single unit of space. The center spread consists of two full facing pages of a publication with a continuous gutter in the center. A gatefold is a four-page sheet, creased and folded approximately halfway along its width so as to bind one end and open, like a gate, to double page size, avoiding the loss of space in the gutter of a two-page spread. Spreads and gatefolds allow advertisers to place products in a panoramic setting, develop complex messages that present several appeals and dramatize one or more features of the product.

Bleed is a characteristic of a printing in which the inked impression of an advertisement or illustration extends beyond the trimmed edges of the page, thereby eliminating margins. Many advertisers are willing to pay extra for bleed because it allows a brand to be set in a desirable panoramic setting.

Full—or preferred—position refers to the placement of an advertisement either following and next to reading matter or at the top of a column next to reading matter. Advertisers pay a premium for full position ads in hopes of increasing exposure and readership.

Media strategies

These special features, although important, are not an advertiser's first consideration when it decides to buy space in a magazine. Media planners are most concerned that a magazine will carry its message effectively and efficiently to their primary or key target audience. Therefore, advertisers become highly involved in evaluating the fit between the magazine's editorial content and its audience. To entice advertisers, each magazine publishes a "publisher's editorial profile"—a brief overview describing the type of magazine, profiles of its readership, its key contents and any special sections—in advertising directories.

When selecting magazines, media planners place a great deal of trust in publishers' editorial profiles; therefore, advertisers and publishers cooperate to create these profiles. In a process known as "comparability," the two parties define, in each of the markets served by the magazine, the terminology used for the product-market served and report audience profiles and the coverage of the markets and audience. Comparability is completed market by market.

Whereas media planners use publishers' editorial profiles for media selection decisions, publishers use them to verify circulation and establish advertising rates. Once the target reader is profiled, the description provides quantitative information about the magazine's "qualified circulation" (the number of issues, paid or unpaid, sent to qualified recipients in the market or field served within the past 36 months). A qualified recipient must receive every issue of the magazine, subject to normal removals and additions

Audits play a role in verifying circulation, the main basis for establishing the advertising rates charged by magazines. The "unit audit" report attests to the number of units, plants or establishments a publication is serving. An audit also typically provides a "breakdown," which delineates the types of businesses or industry a magazine reaches, the functions or titles of recipients and their demographic characteristics or geographic locations.

Media surveys are sometimes used in measuring the extent of penetration of a particular medium into one or several markets. However, advertisers generally trust independent auditors to assess magazine circulation. The Audit Bureau of Circulations is an independent nonprofit organization of advertisers, agencies and publishers that provides verified audits of the circulation of business publications, general magazines and newspapers. Audits of magazine circulation also can be obtained from other organizations, such as Business Publications Audit and Verified Audit Circulation.

Media planners find information describing magazines in magazine directories. The Standard Periodicals Directory provides comprehensive directory information on U.S. and Canadian periodicals according to such subject areas as art, automotive, machinery, romance, lifestyle and salesmanship. Magazines are indexed alphabetically and are classified as association, business, consumer or scholarly publications. Each magazine's editorial content is explained in terms of the magazine's scope, purpose and content.

Standard Rate & Data Service publishes complete directories for business publications and consumer magazines in the U.S. and Canada, including audited and non-audited circulation statistics, guarantee statements, information about editorial content, guidelines concerning advertising costs and details on split runs and other magazine capabilities.

Benn's Media Directory, a U.K. publication, identifies magazines, periodicals and newspapers worldwide. Its data on some countries are sketchy and incomplete, indicating the challenges facing a media planner in international advertising.

Effectiveness as an ad medium

Audiences are highly receptive to magazine advertisements, viewing them as informative, relevant, authoritative, credible and trustworthy. Because people select the magazines they wish to read and choose which parts of them to read, readers often develop personal relationships with particular magazines because those periodicals convey desirable lifestyles, values or concepts.

Magazines also offer the advantage of comparatively long life spans. Whereas each radio or TV spot provides a single opportunity to reach the consumer and newspaper ads are typically seen only on the day the paper is published, a reader is likely to peruse magazine advertisements repeatedly, thereby increasing the effective frequency of such ads. For example, a reader of TV Guide may consult it several times during the week.

Moreover, magazines have a "pass-along" advantage. Several different people—family members, friends, customers, patients and others—can read the same magazine, increasing the reach of an advertisement.

Advertisers are also drawn to magazines by the superior visual quality of the medium and its ability to handle the latest computer-based digital designs and desktop publishing software. Compared to newsprint, the high-quality paper used in magazines provides texture, contrast and superior color reproduction.

Advertisers also appreciate that they can use magazines to offer coupons, explain rebates and convey the required legal "fine print" that companies must publish when offering special financing or lease programs. In a magazine mailed in an envelope or wrapper, advertisers can include free-standing inserts or other loose supplements.

Drawbacks for advertisers

As an advertising medium, magazines have limitations as well as advantages. One such limitation is the need for a long lead time. Advertisers must submit advertising materials well in advance of the publication date, sometimes as much as two months prior to publication. Advertisers also may be hampered by a publication's editorial policy, which can limit what can be said or shown in a magazine, and some magazines have policies that limit advertisers from placing their advertisements in certain positions, for example, the front of the magazine.

Another drawback for advertisers is that readers often do not open a magazine as soon as it is delivered. The desire for fast results drives advertisers to select newspapers, radio or other promotional tools offering more immediate, although more temporary, effects on purchasing decisions.

Still another disadvantage of magazines, especially general-interest magazines, is the high cost of their advertisements relative to those in other media. Special-interest magazines can be cost-effective, however and appeal to advertisers seeking a tightly defined target audience. Because most magazines receive limited retailer attention and lack broad distribution, many (especially those for specialized audiences) are difficult to locate and purchase over the counter.

Financial considerations

Advertisers developing media plans go beyond evaluating audiences and relative merits of a medium. They also examine cost-efficiency. Cost per thousand, the most commonly used technique to assess cost efficiency, is determined by dividing the cost of a vehicle or entire media plan by the number of thousands in the circulation. Effective CPM, a more rigorous test, uses only the number in thousands of the advertiser's primary audience who read the magazine rather than the larger general circulation.

Publishers inform advertisers about the cost of an advertisement in several ways, such as through SRDS publications, in special promotions, by using sales representatives and advertising agents and by publishing rate cards, which give space rates, information on technical and mechanical requirements and closing dates. SRDS directories summarize rate cards.

Publishers attract advertisers by offering discounts, and final rates often are negotiated. Quantity or time discounts are percentage reductions in price given to advertisers according to the frequency with which they insert advertisements in the same publication. Cash discounts, usually 2% of net cost or future space, are returned to advertisers for timely payment of invoices. Group discounts lower rates for advertisers placing ads in several magazines owned by one publisher.

Advertisers may elect to pay premium rates for bleed, color, inserts, gatefolds and other special features, including special or preferred positions. Preferred positions are choice locations that command higher prices. Higher rates are charged for the back cover, the inside front cover and the inside back cover. The alternative is a "run-of-paper" position. ROP indicates that an advertisement is placed anywhere within the magazine at the convenience of the publisher.

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