Publishers turn to other metrics as ABC declines continue

Sarah Homewood
By Sarah Homewood | 13 November 2015

Each time the ABC figures are released they continue to the paint the story of declines in paid print sales across the board, with the newspaper and magazine industry bodies and their publishers, turning to other metrics to tell a different story.

Today the Magazine Publishers Australia (MPA) rolled-out its new magazine media 360 report, which pulls in figures from Emma, Nielsen website data, and social data provided by magazine publishers. It combines them into what the MPA is calling a 'total audience figure'.

These numbers put all 46 magazine brands measured by this new method in positive audience territory for September 2015.

However, according to today's (Friday) release of the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) figures for the quarterly period of July to September, the weekly magazines surveyed from publishers Pacific Magazines and Bauer Media all experienced year-on-year falls.

Bauer's OK title was the hardest hit, with its average net paid sales falling 18.1% year-on-year, with its paid sales amounting to 59,022 copies. It was followed closely by Bauer stablemate NW magazine, falling 17.7% to 62,557.

According to the MPA's 360 snapshot figures, OK magazine drew a total audience of 592,661 for September 2015, with NW pulling an audience of 612,636.

Pacific's Famous magazine also suffered according to the latest ABC figures, with the title's average net paid sales falling 16.9% year-on-year. However the MPA gave it a total audience of 726,442, with its numbers being bolstered by its 295,977 Facebook likes.

Peter Zavecz, current MPA chair and CEO of Pacific Magazines said: “The release of the first cross platform, 360 data from the MPA is a positive move for the industry and our clients, better reflecting not only the reach of our powerful brands – but also how audiences interact with them.”

Bauer Media’s CEO, David Goodchild, also backed the MPA’s data: “The proliferation of media choice has impacted all media in recent years, especially traditional media. However, magazine media continues to engage more than 1.2 million consumers every week, who are making the conscious decision to use their hard earned money to purchase a weekly magazine in Australia.

“However it’s the holistic approach to magazine media that is really defining the way forward for our brands and better reflects how today’s consumers are interacting with magazine media. This approach will be reinforced with the launch of the new magazine 360 report that will be released through the MPA on a quarterly basis to highlight the connections our brands are having across a number of key platforms including print, digital, and social media.”

It is understood that the figures are designed to reflect paid, owned and earned media, with the publishing world aiming to follow in the same footsteps as ad land.

However it is up for debate whether a Twitter follower and magazine or website reader can be counted as the same thing to generate a hybrid 'total audience' figure.

Head of insight for Carat, Christine Mckinnon, told AdNews that while you can't argue with the evolving relationship that consumers have with magazine brands, what agencies have traditionally sought is single-source data that allows for cross channel comparison, with a comparable currency and a representation of a unique audience. 

"Measurement of this is critical for brands, as marketers use these magazine brands across so many different platforms as a conduit to consumers," she said. “The intent behind these figures is to assess the brand as a whole, not the platform which definitely has value. These figures however are cross-sourced and would contain a degree of duplication. On another level, this view doesn't take into account the nuances of each platform and what success looks like across each one. 

“What this highlights is the fractured and complex nature of audience measurement today and the need to account for the value, placed by the consumer, on a brand contact across these platforms. Can we create uniformity of measurement when consumers actually don't want the same experience from each of these platforms?”

When discussing its latest round of figures, Pacific, much like the MPA and the rest of the industry, talks in terms of audience rather than paid sales, with the publisher touting: “latest figures reveal that Pacific Magazines’ focus on total cross platform audience continues to yield results, with the company delivering 18.7 million consumer contacts per month and its ninth consecutive quarter of audience growth – up by 2.6 million or 16.6% in the last 12 months.”

Zavecz said: “We are committed to giving our consumers the content they want, however they want it. Our magazine brands dominate their respective markets, whilst our rocketing digital and social growth, innovative live events and product launches enable us to deliver quality content over an ever-extending audience base.

“These results speak to the success of our transformation strategy, as we continue to grow our total audience and further extend our brand touch points.”

It isn't just magazines that use metrics other than the ABC to measure success, with a Fairfax Media spokesperson saying paid circulation metrics alone aren’t reflective of the large-scale cross-platform audiences it reaches.

“We focus on total masthead readership which reflects our print, web, mobile/tablet audiences. Our sales efforts are focused on connecting advertisers to our high quality and highly engaged audiences. In line with trends globally, audiences are increasingly adopting our digital offerings.”

Fairfax also noted that its total audience is larger than ever before, using Emma data to indicate it reaches 10.9 million Australians across all platforms, with its flagship title The Sydney Morning Herald reaching 5.1 million readers in September this year.

According to the ABC figures for the same time period the paper's Monday to Friday offering reached 104,833 paid print sales, which is a 10.3% drop year-on-year.

It's a similar story with Fairfax's Melbourne title The Age. According to the ABC figures its Monday to Friday edition saw its paid print sales fall 9.9%, or 97,014. Emma however for the same time period gave it a total audience of 3.1 million across all platforms.

In good news for newspaper publishers paid digital numbers are continuing to grow. The Sydney Morning Herald saw a lift of 5.1% year-on-year, growing its paid numbers for its Monday to Friday edition to 139,752. The Age also saw an uplift of 1.6%, with its digital numbers rising to 136,009.

While News Corps print sales are dropping at a slower rate than its rivals, the ABC figures tell a similar story for its printed products. Its national daily The Australian saw a 4.7% decline in print sales year-on-year, with its sales dropping to 101,040 from 106,053 last year. The Daily Telegraph saw a 7.2% drop in paid print sales, with its Queensland based sister, The Courier Mail seeing a drop of 4.7%. 

The publisher did however also have a strong digital showing, with The Australian’s digital numbers rising by 11.5% year-on-year to 73,118. News doesn't openly audit all of its digital numbers however News Corp Australia's new CEO Peter Tonagh said the business is encouraged by the latest data release from the ABC, which shows acceleration in the growth of our digital subscriptions, and some stabilisation of print circulation.

"The Australian now has over 73,000 digital weekday subscribers – up 11.5% year-on-year – while the Herald Sun has grown 26.3% year-on-year to over 63,000 digital weekday subscribers,” he said.

"Last week’s emma data affirmed our position as Australia’s leading print and digital publisher, with a reach of over 14.8 million Australians each month or 83% of the population, and leading positions in news, sport, food and business.

"We continue to see significant growth in digital engagement. All together we reach 10.3 million Australians 14+ each month via our digital network, which equates to 5.3% growth year-on-year."

You can see all the numbers for yourself on the AMAA website.

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