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Simmons Market Research Bureau is scrapping 30 years of experience in measuring magazine audiences and converting to a more practical, and cheaper, technique used by rival Mediamark Research Inc.

Simmons has employed the so-called "through-the-book" method, which is more comprehensive but also more time-consuming. It requires respondents to flip through an entire magazine to explain how much they actually read. Mediamark uses the "recent-reading" method, which merely requires respondents to say whether they read a recent magazine issue.

The move is part of a long-range plan Simmons is implementing to re-engineer magazine audience research.

Next month, Simmons will unveil results of a pilot test, conducted with marketing research giant Information Resources Inc., of a separate research method.

Whether Simmons and IRI ultimately turn it into a syndicated service will depend on industry reaction. This system simply correlates IRI's volumetric data (who buys what in the U.S.) with Simmons readership data to develop indices about what products appeal to magazine readers.

"We will be reporting back on this in the next few weeks," said Tim Bowles, chief executive of Simmons' U.K. parent MRB Group. "But the results are very encouraging."

Meanwhile, Simmons is exploring a third way to gather magazine readership data, an electronic method that includes a recent pilot study with the U.K. TV research trade group Broadcast Audience Research Board.

Mr. Bowles said stepped-up research and development plus new U.S. products to be introduced next year are outgrowths of a summit Simmons had two years ago to determine its future role in magazine research.

However, it is unrelated, he said, to the recent controversy about Simmons' 1994 study with the Magazine Publishers Association (AA, Aug. 15, et seq.). On Sept. 23, Simmons will take part in an industrywide meeting, which will include the American Association of Advertising Agencies, to clarify issues relating to that controversy.

The short-term solution, Mr. Bowles said, is to switch the recent-reading method, which will more than halve the typical respondent interview to about 25 minutes.

As part of the plan, Simmons will switch from one convoluted annual single-source study to two separate surveys, each done annually. Both will still employ the process that begins with in-person interviews.

One component will focus exclusively on magazine readership. To obtain the more traditional magazine and other media and product-usage information, Simmons will field a second annual study.

While theoretically a logical solution, some media researchers are concerned about how Simmons will integrate the two databases. Simmons claims to have a modeling technique to handle it.

Mr. Bowles also said client charges will be reduced 25% to 50%, a direct acknowledgement of the cost pressures being expressed by magazine publishers.

Recently, major clients Hearst Publishing and Conde Nast, which used both major U.S. magazine readership services, canceled research contracts with Simmons due to costs.

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