Who's counting? Publishers question the relevancy of third-party audits

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The 70,000 subscribers to United Business Media's EE Times have no idea how much they're being talked about. The title is one of the leaders in the electronic engineering industry and late last year made the decision to stop being audited by BPA Worldwide. Jenn Markey, CMO of UBM's Tech Insights division, which publishes EE Times, said the decision to leave BPA reflects what is happening in the industry. “Our business is shifting, and BPA didn't have solutions for us in terms of online and event,” she said. “Print is becoming less important to engineers' day-to-day functions.” Consequently, EE Times has taken the first steps in creating a report called the EARmark (Engagement And Reach), which will feature statistics on everything from e-newsletters and online hit counts to the job functions of the publication's print subscribers. The quarterly reports will also be produced more frequently than BPA audit statements, which are issued every six months. “This provides an integration of third-party data that allows our clients to see objective benchmarks,” Markey said. PennWell Corp. has also halted third-party auditing on several titles. Gloria Adams, senior VP-audience development and book publishing, said advertiser fears are a major concern. “We are producing more relevant "total audience' reports that include all our products, not just the magazine,” she said. Bobit Business Media removed one of its books from BPA Worldwide audit because its market was shrinking quickly, said Christine Oldenbrook, director of marketing and e-media at the company. There were three or four other titles in the market that stopped publishing, leaving Bobit with no competition in the sector. “Plus, the advertisers in this field have rarely purchased advertising based on the BPA statement,” she said. “Much of the advertising in this market is moving to our Web site, so they receive reporting from our Web and ad analytics.” Some media buyers aren't happy with this trend. David Rowe, VP-media director at ad agency Doremus has bought space in EE Times for years and told TechInsights that he wanted the title to continue to be audited. “We live in an age of accountability in marketing, and getting an objective third-party audit is fundamental,” he said. “Getting the EARmark report is better than nothing, but it's a very poor substitute for a BPA audit.” Rowe said that he would much rather receive both the BPA audit and the EARmark report. But Harpreet Ahuja, senior VP-group communications director at ad agency McCann Worldgroup, offered a differing opinion. To him, advertisers are less concerned with a magazine's circulation than if a title is reaching the right people in the most relevant environment. Ahuja suggested that both print magazines and auditing bureaus are becoming less relevant, in part because print products aren't as trackable as other media and that third-party auditors are tracking increasingly irrelevant metrics. “I don't deny that there is something to be said for curling up with a magazine,” he said, “but as technology becomes more prevalent and more seamless, it will become less necessary to have a third-body measurement.” Rowe, though, said this move may affect EE Times' reputation. “To me, this is just not the action of an industry leader,” Rowe said. “This is something a second- or third-tier publication does, and EE Times has never been considered that.” Glenn Hansen, president-CEO of BPA Worldwide, obviously isn't a huge fan of titles going unaudited. Hansen said he sees some shifts occurring in the publisher/advertiser relationship because of current economic woes, such as the softening of source type and source age information. “Perhaps use of list sources will be tolerated to a greater extent,” he said. BPA is also adding Web measurements to its audits. M
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