Defending digital editions

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Digital editions offer circulators and media buyers new ways to watch and track how subscribers read and use publications. That trackability-and the lack of click-throughs to certain client sites-has caused some media buyers to be reluctant to pay print prices for digital-edition ads. But that's an erroneous complaint, a number of circulators say.

"There seems to be a lack of understanding of the circulation process by media buyers," said Reed Business Information VP-Controlled Circulation Eric Rutter. "A request to a digital or a print edition-at least with RBI-is exactly the same process."

Ted Bahr, president of BZ Media, the first company to have digital editions of publications audited by BPA Worldwide, agreed.

Objections to digital editions, from a circulation perspective, are "ridiculous because a digital subscriber is identical to the print subscriber," he said. "Tracking isn't really relevant. It doesn't exist the same way in print, but the ads still cost X price." BZ Media doesn't separate digital and print subscribers in any way-and neither do BPA or the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

On the other hand, Bahr said, he understands that the culture isn't quite ready for totally digital editions being priced the same as print editions, and that some publishers go too far in terms of adding digital subscribers.

"When there are more digital subscribers than print subscribers, it will suddenly be seen as a digital product, which is currently priced and measured very differently by the media-buying community," he said. "Someday the media-buying world will be comfortable with a mostly digital product but we're not there yet."

He also said the response expectations of digital editions-the notion that they will invariably bring more leads than print-can be skewed and may lead publishers down the wrong road. "The most likely people to click on banners, or download demos or fill out forms online are people who have a lot of time on their hands, not the people who may have seen the digital ad and actually can go purchase the product," he said.

Bahr suggested publishers control the percentage of digital to print and not let the former overtake the latter.

"When you're doing a new subscription effort, if your digital edition is going up to uncomfortable positions, you can remove the digital options from your subscriber options," he said. He also said it's easy to keep print subscribers as solely print subscribers if need be, or force international subscribers to use the digital option exclusively. This is what BZ Media does: Two-thirds of the company's digital editions go to international subscribers.

Vickie Szombathy, VP-media director at media-buying behemoth Starlink Worldwide, said digital editions are valuable, "particularly with audiences that love to be online." Yet she said she views digital editions as "being more in the online realm, which is priced differently." Szombathy also said she wants to know why subscribers are asking for a product digitally. "Publishers need to figure out how to use that information strategically," she said.

Rutter doesn't see it quite the same way. "As a circulation person, I know what matters," he said. "What matters is the way by which you acquire somebody in terms of their likelihood to be involved and engaged with the product."

Meanwhile, Shannon Aronson, corporate audience development director at CMP Media, said circulators should start thinking about how to handle circulation requests for non-PC platforms, such as wireless devices.

"If your market wants its information that way, you need to serve it up that way," she said. "And then we'll figure out how it's counted and sold to media buyers after that. As long as the deliverability serves the customer, then the publisher and advertiser will follow." 

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