Clash over metrics

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The fiercest fireworks at this year's AMC came during a panel discussing-of all things-magazine audience measurement.

During the discussion, moderated by Ad Age Editor Scott Donaton, Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S.'s President-CEO Jack Kliger aggressively detailed publishers' concerns. Alec Gerster, CEO of media-buying firm Initiative Media, bore much of Mr. Kliger's wrath-and Mr. Kliger received surprising support from another buyer, Starcom Worldwide Senior VP Andrew Swinand.

Mr. Kliger said the current focus on magazine circulation, as measured by the likes of the Audit Bureau of Circulations, severely misrepresented a magazines' audience-the basis for what drives buying decisions. "The way we use ABC [data] so often [is] so off-base," Mr. Kliger said. "It disregards three-quarters" of magazines' total audience, which is arrived at through calculations of "pass-along" readership.

"Magazines are handled differently, to some extent," said Mr. Gerster, but he insisted that magazines "are different from everyone else." He said that, with today's metrics, "you can measure and find enough correlation that you will be able to know" correct audience measurement.

Mr. Swinand said he felt "print was on the cusp of an explosion," and agreed with a key point put forth by magazine executives at this conference-that consumers are unusually "engaged." Mr. Swinand also said one metric sometimes beloved by media buyers, the "average price paid" by magazine subscribers, was shown by Starcom's research to have "absolutely no correlation with anything."

But he also raised concerns that publishers' estimates of circulation are not available for at least six months, and he pointed out that audited circulation takes "18 to 24 months." (In fact, most audits are now finished within a year.) Yet magazine publishers have rough data available to them much more quickly. "How come we don't have that real-time access?" he demanded.

Late in the discussion, Mr. Gerster was asked what he would do if he could junk the current measuring system and start over. "I'd go become a plumber," he joked.

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