Fix ABC Addiction
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.
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