MPA explains why ad metrics are just the start for tablet publishing

July 24, 2012

Tablet magazines have been a hot topic over the last year. TIME IncCondé NastHearst and Future have all launched well-regarded digital magazines for the iPad and Android tablets, while tablet reading habits have grown to the point where tablet owners are even turning away from printed magazines and books.  

However, while that's been great news for publishers, advertisers have been left frustrated.

That's because shortly after the first tablet magazines were introduced, concerns were raised that advertisers were unable to measure how tablet magazines were read.  These concerns were soon addressed when the MPA introduced the first tablet metrics in mid-April. (The association changed its name from Magazine Publishers of America earlier this year). 

The optional metrics allow publishers to reveal the total number of a publication’s digital issues, the number of readers by issue, as well as average reading session per user, and the MPA reckons most publishers and advertisers have been happy with the move.

“We’ve had very positive feedback on what is going to be a very important topic”, said MPA president and CEO Nina Link. “It’s an on-going effort. I think part of where we are right now is on socializing the metrics in the publishing and advertising industries, and on educating people about what they mean."

Competing with the iPad

Link says that publishers have been happy with the metrics, with most content to have ‘something to work with’ for providing figures to their ad agencies.

“Everyone likes to tailor things a little bit to their own titles, but in general the move has been applauded and people are in various stages of looking at their business relating to these metrics”, said Link.

She also said that it was the introduction of Apple’s Newsstand last October that pushed the group to introduce the metrics, but stresses that Apple faces increasing competition from Amazon and Barnes & Noble in the tablet space going forward.

“Newsstand coming out in October, 2011 was when we really saw a surge in subscriptions", said Link, who no doubt would have seen Condé Nast report the same thing back at the end of last year.

“But while the iPad is important, we’ve also seen that publishers are having success with the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet. They’ve enjoyed a lot of subscriptions and I think publishers are going to have more choices as these platforms evolve and become more interactive.”

However, MPA partner Adobe reckons the move was less about one platform, and more about the publisher's realizing that tablets were here for good.

“Publishers tend to be slow to move, but more are thinking about digital magazines now that they know tablets are here to stay”, said Lynly Schambers-Lenox, group product marketing manager for Digital Publishing at Adobe.

“A year from now a huge number of publishers will have moved to tablets, but we’re not at the top of the ball curve yet. If they don’t have a tablet app, I would say they’re thinking about it. But a year ago they might not have even had a digital strategy”.

Ad agencies still aren’t happy

Several times during our interview, Link said that ‘everyone wants everything now’, and this certainly seems true of ad agencies and media buyers, some of whom have already called for the MPA's metrics to be more inclusive.

“We’ve worked hard so agencies know what we can and can’t do right now", said Link. "Of course, there are certain things they’d like to see, which aren’t possible right now but the analytics companies are looking into that."

As part of moving the metrics forward, the MPA has held discussions with analytics companies like comScore and Nielsen to ensure publishers can track all the data from their tablet editions.

“Many publishers are just beginning to get and understand the analytics, but some guys aren’t there yet. So we’re now in the phase of having discussions with a number of analytics companies who want to be in this space, to see how they can serve the needs of the media in terms of tablet management," she said.

MPA rules out compulsory metrics…for now

When quizzed on the future of the metrics, Link was reluctant to say if they will become compulsory at a later date, given the infancy of the market, but does believe that most improvements on tablet magazines can be measured.

“We all realize that we need to have some kind of aggregating, common dashboard down the road, and that’s something we’re definitely working on with the analytics companies.

“And ultimately, over time, we want to be able to report on the whole brand footprint of magazines across multiple platforms. But right now, we do what we’re able to do, and focus on tablets by audience and engagement.”

Adobe reckons that the metrics could get a boost if ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulations), a big player in tracking print magazine metrics, decides to get involved with tablet metrics.

“This is the first stake in the ground for publishers”, said Adobe's Schambers-Lenox. “I don’t think there will be a way to enforce these rules, but in time the ABC will get more involved with analytics for tablet editions, and then you’ll see all publishers line up behind the ABC model”.

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