Fix ABC Ad­dic­tion

The Insider - - CONTENT -

24

Have you ever no­ticed that on ev­ery TV chan­nel or in any con­sumer mag­a­zine you flip through you see at least one ad­ver­tise­ment from a drug man­u­fac­turer? And while some drugs have pro­foundly changed us as a so­ci­ety – drugs like Xanax or Vi­a­gra that pro­vide a qual­ity of life not pos­si­ble just a few decades be­fore – what re­ally fas­ci­nates me are the po­ten­tial side ef­fects that take more time/space to list than the ben­e­fits them­selves.

Th­ese re­ac­tions can range from mi­nor in­con­ve­niences (e.g. dry mouth) to life-threat­en­ing risks (heart fail­ure). But be­cause the prob­a­bil­ity of them oc­cur­ring is of­ten a frac­tion of a per­cent, we tend to glaze over even the most se­ri­ous of them. Thank­fully the medical com­mu­nity pays at­ten­tion long af­ter the drug has hit the mar­ket.

Food and drug safety agen­cies con­tin­u­ally re-eval­u­ate the ef­fec­tive­ness and safety of drugs to dis­cover ad­di­tional threats and op­por­tu­ni­ties as new strains of ill­nesses and diseases en­ter so­ci­ety – threats and op­por­tu­ni­ties that are very dif­fi­cult to pre­dict dur­ing the in­no­vat­ing phase.

So what has this got to do with pub­lish­ing? A lot! Pub­lish­ing’s tra­di­tional cir­cu­la­tion model is a drug.

In­vented decades ago to bring trans­parency be­tween pub­lish­ers and ad­ver­tis­ers, let’s be hon­est, cir­cu­la­tion ended up driv­ing pub­lish­ers to print more copies than would ever get read in or­der to in­flate ad­ver­tis­ing rates. Cir­cu­la­tion rev­enues could never cover the costs of pro­duc­ing, print­ing and dis­tribut­ing con­tent, so in­stead they were used to fuel ad­ver­tis­ing pric­ing based on to­tal num­bers. Cir­cu­la­tion be­came pub­lish­ing’s in­ter­nal sub­si­diza­tion magic pill.

I think we can all agree that read­ers to­day don’t just read print. And so if you still think that be­cause printed edi­tions are made avail­able at air­ports or ho­tels, that ev­ery sin­gle copy of your pub­li­ca­tion will be picked up by peo­ple and read cover to cover, I’m sorry…you’re wrong.

The time has come to re-eval­u­ate th­ese mod­els and truth­fully ask our­selves, “Do th­ese mod­els do any­thing be­yond feed­ing our ad­dic­tion to dump­ing copies for the sake of ar­bi­trar­ily set­ting ad­ver­tis­ing rates?”

Years ago I par­tic­i­pated with a num­ber of pub­lish­ers and mem­bers of an au­dit­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion in a joint in­dus­try com­mit­tee (no ad­ver­tis­ers were in­vited). The com­mit­tee in­cluded rep­re­sen­ta­tives that set the rules based on feed­back from pub­lish­ers and ad­ver­tis­ers. Like au­di­tors, they were en­trusted with the re­spon­si­bil­ity of en­sur­ing the rules were fol­lowed.

When the topic of re­vis­ing the rules was raised at that meet­ing, it was clear that the pub­lish­ers in the room did not want to know their ac­tual read­er­ship and sug­gested that the ad­ver­tis­ers didn’t ei­ther. It was like go­ing on a shop­ping spree, rack­ing up Visa bills and not open­ing the credit card state­ment at the end of the month, hop­ing it will just go away. It re­minded me of the old Ja­panese maxim of the three mon­keys: Mizaru, Kikazaru and Iwazaru – “See no evil; hear no evil; speak no evil.

Now, sev­eral years later we can safely say that ad­ver­tis­ers know full well that peo­ple don’t nec­es­sar­ily read printed edi­tions cover to cover. And, yes, they re­ally do want to know what the ac­tual read­er­ship is and even more than that.

Why? Para­phras­ing

Canadian Prime Min­is­ter, Justin Trudeau…

Be­cause it’s 2016!

Tra­di­tional cir­cu­la­tion mod­els have to change, es­pe­cially in light of mas­sive dig­i­tal news con­sump­tion. Tak­ing the print model of count­ing the num­ber of print or dig­i­tal edi­tion copies pur­chased (as sub­scrip­tions or sin­gle copy sales) and driv­ing ad rates from there just doesn’t work.

Some au­dit­ing agen­cies are wak­ing up to this nightmare, now de­mand­ing proof that dig­i­tal read­ers have ac­tu­ally en­gaged with the on­line con­tent be­fore count­ing it as cir­cu­la­tion – some­thing that never ex­isted in print, leav­ing the door open to ram­pant abuse.

The sooner we have an open con­ver­sa­tion as an in­dus­try on how the met­rics need to evolve, the bet­ter. It’s not go­ing to be easy be­cause we’re not just com­par­ing ap­ples and or­anges in this tran­si­tion – it’s a whole cor­nu­copia of com­plex­i­ties.

With the wealth of multi-chan­nel and cross-plat­form dis­tri­bu­tion so­lu­tions avail­able to pub­lish­ers, it be­comes very dif­fi­cult to de­fine ac­cu­rate met­rics for a pub­lisher’s au­di­ence – both quan­ti­ta­tively and qual­i­ta­tively – data that demon­strates real value to ad­ver­tis­ers. Clearly, print cir­cu­la­tion num­bers, dig­i­tal sub­scrip­tion fig­ures and unique page views are not go­ing to cut it.

Ad­ver­tis­ing rates should not be gov­erned by ar­chaic print mod­els retro­fit­ted for a dig­i­tal uni­verse. In­stead, pub­lish­ers need to evolve their re­la­tion­ship with ad­ver­tis­ers into an agency-type en­gage­ment so they can bet­ter un­der­stand how to help ad­ver- tis­ers reach their tar­get au­di­ences and then cre­ate eq­ui­table project-based pric­ing around those cam­paigns.

By hold­ing on to the par­a­digms of the past and let­ting fear, un­cer­tainty and doubt in­fil­trate the in­dus­try, we’ve been im­ped­ing progress to a brighter fu­ture for our­selves, our read­ers and our ad­ver­tis­ers.

Change won’t be as easy as “ABC”, but as the fa­mous Chi­nese philoso­pher, Lao Tzu, so aptly put, “If you do not change di­rec­tion, you may end up where you are head­ing.”

If you do not change di­rec­tion, you may end up where you are head­ing.” Lao Tzu

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