“The media industry must measure up”

9 February 2014 at 13:38 Leave a comment

Defending competitive position and measurement issues stifle innovation in digital media. Gideon Spanier writes about constraints and challenges of print plus digital audience reach.

The media business does not do a good enough job of measuring its own performance. Newspapers and magazines have been particularly poor at producing meaningful circulation and readership figures that combine print and digital.

Amazingly, the British magazine industry will for the first time ever officially produce a single “headline” circulation figure encompassing both print and digital next week — when new six-monthly figures are released by the Audit Bureau of Circulation. Newspaper ABCs are arguably even more archaic as monthly print and digital data are still not even published on the same day.

As Mike Darcey, chief executive of News UK, parent company of The Sun and The Times, told this week’s Enders Analysis media conference: “I remain mystified as to why, 15 years into the internet era, and with everyone claiming mature digital strategies, we still only ever talk about print sales.”…

Part of the problem is many in publishing view digital through the lens of print. For example, the digital edition of a magazine has needed to be a near-replica of the print version to be included in the ABC data. Even after next week’s changes, the digital edition can only drop 5% of the articles from the print version and it can only add up to 25% of new content that differs from print (there is no restriction on video).

Critics say such a mindset stifles  innovation and investment. That’s because a publisher is rewarded when its digital offering mimics print with a replica PDF-style edition and is penalised when digital differs radically from print — because those sales are excluded from the circulation figures.

While some publishers have criticised ABC, the circulation body has also been held back by some members, which include advertisers and media agencies. As Enders said in a recent note: “Delays to decisions about measurement could be viewed as symptomatic of an industry focused on competitive positions rather than on defending a sustainable future for the industry as a whole.”

It is hard to agree on statistics. Combining a paper’s daily print sale with mobile app users and unique daily online browser visits can feel like comparing apples and pears.

Ultimately, this is a problem across the media. There is still no single agreed measure for website visitor numbers. TV viewing figures also leave much to be desired. Darcey says publishers must also produce better figures on “engagement and dwell time”.

Our data-driven digital age demands more accurate measurement.

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Entry filed under: analytics, categorisation, Content strategy.

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