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Issue for June 2010

Digital Readers: Second-Class Citizens?

Posted on Wednesday, June 09, 2010 at 2:34 PM

How will an audit treat your digital readers?

By Meredith L. Dias

The pre-release iPad buzz led the Audit Bureau of Circulations to change its definition of digital magazines. Now the rules are iPad-compatible, but do they solve the digital circulation conundrum in the long run?

Until recently, the ABC required a replica digital edition to be a mirror image of its print counterpart. The editorial content, advertising, and layout had to be identical. The March ABC ruling loosens these restrictions in order to accommodate new digital publishing trends, including iPad magazine apps. Now, the layout of a digital edition can differ from the print edition.

So what does this new ruling mean for magazine publishers? What can they do with their digital editions without compromising their circulation and rate base?

The New ABC Criteria

The ABC separates digital editions into two categories: replica and
non-replica. In both instances, the digital edition is defined as "a paid requested subscription/single copy or individually requested verified where access is restricted." A replica digital edition must "include the print edition's full editorial and advertising content and all editorial photography," while a non-replica digital edition must "maintain the same basic identity and contain content of the same editorial home as the print magazine."

In this regard, the non-replica digital edition may be attractive to particularly innovative publishers. It lends itself to creativity and experimentation within the medium. However, it is important to keep in mind that, according to the ABC, non-replica digital editions "shall not be totaled into rate base comparison data in ABC reports." Only replica digital editions factor into both the core magazine circulation and rate base figures. Non-replica data are reported separately.

Allowed Changes

What if an advertiser opts out of the digital version? What if a magazine gains additional advertisers in its digital edition? Can it still be considered a replica digital edition?

The ABC has taken into account several such contingencies. A replica edition may replace advertisements when print advertisers opt out of the digital edition, and even incorporate additional advertising into its pages. These elements will not compromise ABC compliance. Enrichment of content with links, audio, video, etc., is also permissible under the new ABC guidelines.

Potential Problems

But what if a magazine cannot obtain permission to reproduce a print edition photograph in the digital edition? According to the ABC in its "Qualifying Your Magazine's iPad Edition" article, "If a consumer magazine uses an editorial photo in the print edition but is not able to use that photo in the digital edition (due to copyright or other reasons), the magazine cannot qualify and report the digital circulation as replica."

Given the sometimes problematic nature of permissions in today's increasingly complex copyright climate, this kind of rigidity may hamper magazines who rely heavily upon freelance photographers in particular. While the word "replica" certainly indicates a mirror image, it seems punitive to disqualify magazines who, through no fault of their own, are unable to obtain digital permissions for a photograph -- particularly when substitutions are permitted for print ads in the event of an opt-out. Why the leniency in terms of advertising and not editorial graphics?


The new ruling, while a step in the right direction, keeps magazines tethered to their print editions. A publication can certainly experiment with its digital editions, but deviating too much from print means classification as a "non-replica" digital edition. This category represents a concession, rather than an incentive, to innovative publishers seeking to break new ground in their digital editions. Core circulation remains a print-oriented metric.

While print circulation figures seem to be tabulated under the assumption that every print subscriber will open the magazine, publishers of digital content must prove that digital readers have opened their digital copies (via download records for 'push' delivery or access records for 'pull' delivery, according to the ABC). In other words, the digital subscriber must cement his validity by "opening" the issue before being counted. These rules prevent fraudulent or inflated digital circulation claims by digital publishers, but also seem to hold the digital subscriber to a higher standard of engagement with the content than print subscribers.

Embracing Technology

Print is far from dead. In some segments, it is still king. However, does this mean that magazine publishers should be required to apply their print formula to digital editions? What works for one will not necessarily work for the other.

There is an abundance of available technology that might revolutionize digital editions, but it remains largely untapped. In order for magazines to evolve, the very concept of what a magazine is must change. We must adapt our print-oriented conceptualization of magazines and allow digital editions to become more than mere replicas, more than supplementary, second-class circulatory citizens.

The ABC allows publishers to use existing technology to an extent -- editors and designers can enhance the digital edition with multimedia bells and whistles. But they must do so with the print edition in mind, presenting "editorial and advertising content ... in a fashion that is similar and consistent with the print publication." In this regard, the digital content remains only an extension of print. The magazine is free to develop a non-replica edition but, as mentioned earlier, readership of that edition will not factor into rate base comparison data or core circulation.

The Future

Still, the ABC changes help to move the magazine industry forward. The amended definition of digital editions will help publishers to incorporate more digital readers into their rate base and core circulation. However, because the very concept of magazines remains rooted in the print model, it is still a challenge to deliver content across multiple platforms to diverse audiences. And when something as simple as a photo substitution can disqualify a digital edition as a replica, publishers must walk on creative eggshells when developing their replica digital editions.

Perhaps the concept of circulation itself needs to change. Circulation auditing still focuses on print circulation numbers, counting digital readers in core circulation only when the product they receive mimics print. Should the advertisers and watchdogs expand their concept of core circulation to include diverse editions under the same brand? This would allow digital editions to evolve independent of their print counterparts. It would allow them to embrace the multifaceted existence made possible by today's technology.

(To read more about this topic, see William Dunkerley's Q&A article about auditing digital circulation in his consultant blog.)

Meredith Dias is the research editor of STRAT and Editors Only.

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Posted in Advertising (RSS), Audience (RSS)

Boost Your Advertising Sales Now!

Posted on Monday, June 07, 2010 at 4:53 PM

STRAT is offering a webinar entitled "Boost Your Advertising Sales Now!"

It covers
--finding new advertisers
--getting existing ones to spend more
--outsmarting your competitors

This webinar is guaranteed to help you.

Unique format: One-on-one seminar. Just you and the presenter. All focus is on your publication, your situation, your questions. Everything is 100 percent confidential.

Registration is only $275.

When: By arrangement.

For whom: Top publication executives, key department managers, and start-up entrepreneurs.

Your presenter: STRAT's publisher, William Dunkerley. Almost 30 years experience as publishing consultant. Specializes in turnarounds, startups, and organization development. Extensive domestic and international experience. He's helped countless publishers like you. Now you can learn from his insights yourself.

To register, email Meredith Dias, mld [at] publishinghelp [dot] com.

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Why We're Not Seeing More Online Ad Revenue -- Part II

Posted on Monday, June 07, 2010 at 3:18 PM

The story gets worse. More reasons why online ads just aren't working for too many advertisers.

By William Dunkerley

In Part I, I described some of the qualities of good advertising that perhaps most online ads lack. Now, let's consider some of the qualities of online ads that are actually off-putting.

The forced, repeat exposure of an unwanted ad that was discussed in Part I deserves prominent mention. You know, that's the serving of ads over and over again, sometimes on a rotating basis, sometimes in a position that interferes with reading the content.

Another thing is the placement of ads. Often online publications will try to cram as many ads as possible toward the top of their front pages. In some cases, these placements may boost the click-through numbers. However, when it comes to overall advertising effectiveness, ad position is known to have little impact. For a long time there has been a lot of misunderstanding about this. Many advertisers, for example, have valued right-hand pages in a print publication over left-hand pages. Likewise with the front of the book over the back of the book. Research has shown, however, that with few exceptions (like the back cover, for instance), position in the publication has almost negligible impact on effectiveness.

Perhaps the worst examples of online ad positioning are the in-your-face ads that you can't avoid. They include ads you have to click away in order to reach the publication in the first place. Then there are the flash ads that pop on or walk onto the page when you try to read further, as well as those ads that follow you up and down the page as you scroll. They require clicking away, too. Special mention should go to ads that emit intrusive sounds that were never invited by the reader. These ads may be clever demonstrations of the designer's technical prowess. But, they embody an enormous potential for annoying the audience of any publication. The idea that annoying your potential customers is a good way of soliciting their business seems quite counterintuitive.

Is it any wonder why online advertising doesn't work? Either the ads are too small to count, hard to find when you want to, or so intrusive that they annoy. Do you have any lingering doubts about why we're not seeing more online ad revenue?

When an Industry Does Itself In

The current predicament of online advertising may sound problematic. However, the future doesn't seem much better. In fact, there are distinct perils ahead.

To appreciate this, consider the plight of the telemarketing industry. As recently as the 1980s, it offered an up-and-coming way of soliciting business. In 1987, International Telemarketing Expos were held in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Under the banner of "Plan Now For Your Future!" they featured educational seminars and exhibits to help attendees sharpen their skills for this emerging field.

Now, twenty-three years into the future, where is the telemarketing industry? It has been practically legislated out of existence! Why did that happen? It happened because it annoyed, irritated, and bamboozled its audience.

Now It's Happening to Online Advertising

I've already described for you how online advertising has annoyed and irritated its audience. But bamboozled? That brings spam to mind. The whole unremediated problem of spam, however, speaks for itself. It still cries out for a serious legislated solution. Now, though, I'm talking about what is considered by advertisers and content providers to be legitimate advertising.

To illustrate the problem with so-called legitimate online advertising, we performed a couple of experiments at STRAT. We went to Google.com and did a search on the term "ostrich diapers." We were served ads for several vendors, including the retailer Target. Proceeding to the Target website, we found no "ostrich diapers." A phone call to the retailer confirmed that they sold no "ostrich diapers."

This exaggerated example just goes to illustrate a problem. Many of the ads consumers are served online are for products that the advertisers are not selling. Sometimes, the text of the ad is even dynamically configured to contain the name of the product that the advertiser is not selling. These ads are using the words consumers are searching for. But the advertisers have no intention of supplying the "ostrich diapers," or whatever. They're just trying to get a click through by any means. Misleading consumers is not good business.

On another occasion, we went to Google.com and set up an AdWords campaign for a webinar. We included in the campaign design exposures to both Google's "Search Network" and "Content Network." The latter involves ads placed by Google on the websites of others that Google deems to be relevant. The "content" click-throughs exceeded those from "search" by three times. In analyzing the results, we looked at where the traffic came from geographically. It was surprising to find that a very disproportionate number of clicks came from Chinese addresses, even though our advertised webinar would have little utility for that audience segment. Then, we randomly sampled two website addresses on which our ad was served. When attempting to visit those sites, the first address returned the message "Directory Listing Denied," the second said in Portuguese, "under construction." These non-existent sites were locations represented to us as relevant locations from which our ad had been served and clicked upon. After bringing these problems to Google's attention, the situation still remains unresolved, now weeks later.

When a leading online provider like Google provides an advertiser with nonsensical and even misrepresented results, it does not bode well if you are trying to "Plan Now For Your Future!"

What Can You Do About This?

The spam, misleading, and potentially fraudulent advertising problems need to be addressed by a combination of industry groups, legislators, and law enforcement agencies.

However, there are things you can do now with your online publication and with your advertising sales. Here are a few recommendations:

1. Get off the metrics bandwagon and instead build a quality online audience of people who will be good prospective buyers for your advertisers. I'm not suggesting that you ignore metrics. Just subordinate them to the goal of building a readership that consists of prospective buyers.

2. Don't offer advertising modalities that will have a high probability of annoying your audience. If you do, it will work against you and your advertisers in the long run. Think how annoyed a print reader would be if he had to unstick an ad from the next page in order to continue reading. Why should we expect online readers to be any less annoyed? Avoid annoying the readers.

3. Do offer advertisement sizes that are will be perceived as significant. Consider that small banner ads will have a small impact on readers. In print, a full page ad is a full page, period. If your online publication is in PDF or one of the page-flip formats, then, a page is still a page. But, if your publication is in HTML, there is no standard page size. What a reader sees before her will depend upon the size of the monitor, the screen resolution, and the size of the browser window. However, you should be able to obtain some statistical evidence from your server to indicate what is the most prevalent monitor configuration used by your visitors. Consider whatever size fills that screen to be the equivalent of a full page ad. Figure out how many pixels that represents in order to specify the dimensions for advertisers. Encourage advertisers to use that size.

4. Give the advertisements a fixed place in your publication so that readers will be able to return to them at will. Making them impossible to find again deprives your advertisers of a very valuable form of repeat exposure.

Try implementing these four recommendations, and see if your online ad revenue doesn't take a turn for the better!

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com/consultant.

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Want to See More?

To see Part I of "Why We're Not Seeing More Online Revenue," plus the rest of STRAT Newsletter, click on this link for free access.

Posted in Advertising (RSS), Online (RSS)

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