MRI arms magazines with diary data

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When it comes to measuring audience, print products have faced one enormous obstacle against broadcast TV: Nielsen Media Research's people meters.

Cynthia Evans, senior VP-print research at Media Edge, New York, noted people meters give media buyers measurements of exactly when an audience is tuned in or out of TV programs. But there's nothing equivalent for magazines -- that is, a measurement of exactly when in a weekly or monthly cycle consumers were most likely to read, or have read, the magazines.


A study released today by Mediamark Research Inc. changes that. MRI's "Audience Accumulation Study," with data compiled through nearly 12,000 respondents who kept diaries recording their magazine reading habits, plots out on a day-to-day basis just how magazine audiences grow.

MRI said this is the first third-party research of its type in 35 years. Regardless of the timing, it's certainly the broadest, measuring readership of 192 titles its respondents read (46 were pre-listed in the respondents' diaries).

The study will allow magazines to present more coherent and precise arguments to advertisers in terms of quantifying readership.

"It's not important to deliver all your audience in one day," said Leslie Wood, head of Leslie Wood Research, who consulted with MRI on the study. "It's important to know when it's delivered."

Some preliminary data presented by MRI in advance of the report's release showed, for instance, that the total readership of TV Guide spikes significantly on the fifth day of its on-sale cycle. On the fourth day of its newsstand presence, the data showed, almost 50% of its audience has read the magazine, whereas by day five, almost 80% had.


Among three monthlies -- Car and Driver, Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping -- tracked over a 44-day period, the results showed audience grew faster among magazines that have a higher percentage of total sales coming from newsstands. Nearly 70% of Cosmo's audience had read the title by the end of the period, while less than 50% of Car and Driver's had.

"The interesting thing," Ms. Evans said, "is the accumulation period is much longer than we expected -- as long as 188 days. The other [notable thing] is that the accumulation begins much farther before the issue date" than previously thought.

Production logistics and market location dictate that some magazines are available substantially in advance of their actual issue dates. About 10% of U.S. News & World Report's readers, the study showed, had perused the magazine by the date it officially went on sale; among the three previously mentioned monthlies, the figure was greater than 15%.


The final results of the survey, said George Kronheimer, MRI's VP-magazine sales, can be broken down into four demographic groups -- 18-plus, 18 to 34, 35 to 54, and 55-plus -- as well as by three educational cohorts: high school or less, college graduates and college graduate-plus.

This targeted readership information "was the piece of data missing to make media-mix models work correctly and to make multimedia optimizers even worth attempting," said Barbara Zack, director of research for Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing, referring to two types of computer programs used to map out buys across different kinds of media.

"The main event is accountability," Ms. Evans said, "and the ability for magazines to compete against TV." This study puts the two media on a more even footing, she added.


Ms. Zack was optimistic the data could persuade advertisers to bulk up their print buys. "When these tools are in people's hands, they will develop better plans, and use print more wisely."

Valerie Muller, senior VP-director of print services for Grey Global Group's MediaCom, New York, was more agnostic on that point. But she said the new study could have a great impact on the advertising landscape. The data give advertisers the chance "to do magazines first and do broadcast [buys] around them." Traditionally, magazine buys have been planned around the "immediacy" of TV spots. "It helps us in scheduling," said Ms. Muller. "Big time."

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