More Than Just Ink & Paper

More Than Just Ink & Paper

Forget print circulation numbers – total masthead sales are where it’s at as publishers continue to integrate online and offline offerings. B&T looks at how it works and the challenges ahead for publishers and advertisers.

B&T Magazine
Posted by B&T Magazine

Magazines and newspapers aren’t just magazines and newspapers, they’re brands – brands that extend beyond a print product that can be held in your hand. Publishers have been saying this for some time now, yet four times a year the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) figures are released and every trade press title in the country slices and dices print sales in an attempt to figure out which titles are destined for the chopping block.

But there’s another number that the Audited Media Association of Australia (AMAA) produces alongside print circulation figures. Many in the industry say we should be talking about this instead. The number? Total masthead sales.

Paul Dovas, CEO of the AMAA, says: “‘Total masthead sales’, for us, means an analysis of the circulation of a print product plus its digital versions.”

The AMAA recognises three forms of a digital version: a replica PDF type product, what the AMAA calls ‘enhanced products’ – a sort of native app version or hybrid app version, and  websites that carry content from the masthead behind a paywall.

Dovas says: “It’s identifying the sales of both print and digital versions and providing a de-duplicated combined total. We call that total masthead sales.”

Mary Anne Azer, executive director of Magazine Publishers of Australia (MPA), says: “The market has moved on, it’s not just about the print product; it’s about the total brand. For me it is brand building. You can’t split a brand, similar to how you can’t split a Coke into ‘this is a bottle and this is a can’ because it’s one entire brand. It’s similar with total masthead sales. It’s a total brand; it’s a brand building exercise.”

“There is still a perception that legacy print companies are print companies,” says Gereurd Roberts, Pacific Magazines commercial director. “We’re not a print business or a magazine business. We’re an audience company and we deliver that audience through our brands and they’re big powerful brands that exist across a number of platforms.”

Prue Cox, the commercial director at Newslifemedia, says: “The landscape is changing and our business is changing considerably. We used to see ourselves as a magazine business but we’ve really evolved to this content service business that’s multi environment and multi screens.”

The reporting of total masthead sales was introduced at the behest of ABC members which include publishers, agencies and advertisers. “It’s been in place for a couple of years. The ABC members sat down to create the rules and the measurement process to deliver this framework of reporting. It’s in addition, it doesn’t take away from, the average net paid print sales that have been standard for print sales for more than 80 years.”

Dovas makes a good argument, but Tim Addington the newly appointed executive director at Publishers Australia, the industry body for business-to-business, specialist business-to-consumer, custom and digital publishers, had this to say: “Total masthead sales are still in their relative infancy and while some publishers, particularly those in mainstream media, have decided to go down this road, there is still the vast majority that are resisting. As a currency which agencies and advertisers can rely on, the critical mass is not there yet to make it a viable means of measurement.”

Addington adds: “Advertisers and agencies want visibility on audiences and total masthead reporting does provide that in terms of paid digital and print sales. But while it is suitable for some publications, in particular mass market titles with large reach, and a more competitive advertising market, total masthead reporting may not be suitable for all publications.”

Total masthead sales gives publishers who are constantly copping a battering for their declining print circulation a way to change the conversation. Dovas says: “The focus was to provide our members with the opportunity to show their publishing models are changing and evolving and that the footprint of a masthead has moved away from print and also has a digital life. This is the opportunity for publishers to show that it’s not just about the declining print number, there is also a positive story and there is a response to the digital product that’s increasing and improving with every reporting period.”

Newslifemedia’s Cox says: “More and more we’re seeing clients coming to us and wanting marketing programs.”

From an advertiser’s perspective, MPA’s Azer says: “As someone that has worked on the advertising side – I spent 19 years at Procter & Gamble on the client side – I was always looking for that integrated solution. That came through different areas not just online and print.”

On the publishing side, the move to a more integrated approach has meant salespeople that might once have just focussed on selling print ads have had a change of focus.

Roberts says: “We’ve invested a lot of money in up-skillng our people and in ensuring they are best in class. We are going through a four month engagement with digital agency Razorfish who came in with a brief to help us find ways to build our brand’s social following and monetize that in a way that’s going to continue to grow our audience. We’ve well equipped our people to be able to develop and adapt to this new way of selling and this new world of media moving forward.”

Newslifemedia’s Cox says: “Two years ago, we merged our digital sales team and our magazine sales team. All of our sales people are now what we call ‘platform agnostic’: they sell across magazines, digital, social activations and experiential. And that took a lot of up-skilling and training in order to do that. Really a lot of the work we do is training them to act like a brand marketer but think like a sales person. Magazine people, traditionally, have been very creative, solution oriented sales people. I don’t think they’ve just been ‘space sellers’. So that transition to extend that to other platforms has been something that they’ve been able to do.”

For the auditors, one of the greatest challenges is the changing nature of distribution channels for publishers who are no longer just relying on supermarkets and newsagents to report back sales figures. Dovas says: “We’re now dealing with huge global giants like Apple, Google and Samsung. These guys operate under a very different agenda to publishers. We call them the ‘non compliers’.

Dovas says the shareholders and investors of these tech giants means the needs of publishers have to take a back seat as these companies might not be willing to cooperate with industry bodies.

“We had an experience where we had spent about six months creating rules and the reporting framework and Apple made a small announcement on a beta version of their upcoming operating system which made redundant all that work we’d done,” says Dovas. “They’re the type of risks we run.”

Of course ‘total masthead sales’ is not to be confused with ‘total masthead audience’.

As the name suggests, masthead sales refers to the hard sales figures for a brand. The AMAA has spent many months working with ABC members to define the rules around the framework. Dovas says: “We went to a lot of effort to define what the versions are; the difference between a replica and an enhanced version and the difference between that and a paywall website.”

The AMAA has also gone to great lengths to determine it considers a ‘sale’. For paywall websites, Dovas explains that currently, this predominantly means subscriptions.

He says: “We don’t really have in our market micro-payments. It will be interesting if that ever came in place.”

Dovas says: “We recognise and report the sales which are for a print only copy. We recognise and report the sales which are digital only. If anyone is subscribing to both print and digital, they’re reported in a combined column. That way you’re not double counting the print or digital.”

Total masthead audience, on the other hand, is based on figures such as readership numbers provided by Roy Morgan or Ipsos the research firm responsible for emma (Enhanced Media Metrics Australia).

Fairfax Media commercial director Tom Armstrong says: “‘Total masthead audience’ is the audience that reads the masthead brand across all platforms including print, web, mobile and tablet. As an example, The Sydney Morning Herald has a total Masthead audience of 5.5 million.” By comparison, the most recent ABC figures show the Herald has total masthead sales of 213,000 from Monday to Friday and 279,000 on Saturdays.

Fiorella Di Santo, group sales director for News Corp says: “It brought us into the 21st century. Being able to provide a more accurate picture on who is reading, for example, The Australian, the Herald Sun or Escape in print, and then online, allows us to be more innovative and creative with the solutions we provide.”

Armstrong explains that emma comes to this audience figure by taking data for the last 4 weeks net readership across the masthead’s print, computer, tablet and mobile platforms.

According to Armstrong, “‘Total masthead audience’ data provides advertisers with an overall ‘health check’ of the brand.”

But Pacific Magazine’s Roberts would like to see the calculation of ‘total masthead audience’ add in one more element – social. He says: “Our social audience is coming up to being half the size of our total readership. To deny the presence and the effectiveness of that audience would be a crime. When we’re talking about total masthead audience, then it encapsulates all of those channels, absolutely.”

However Dovas warns against consolidating figures willy nilly. He says: “When you start combining those numbers, that’s very dangerous because there’s a level of duplication. You might have Facebook people that also use the app and also use the website and if you’re counting them three times, you’re over inflating your audience.”

While the basic framework is in place for the reporting of total masthead sales, there’s still work to be done to bring all of the respective industry stakeholders on board. The MPA’s Azer says: “Some of the advertisers are sophisticated enough to look at total masthead sales and some need more education. That’s the challenge I see from an MPA standpoint; to educate and train the market.”

Pacific Magazine’s Roberts says: “When you’re home to some of Australia’s biggest brands like Marie Claire and Better Homes and Gardens, it’s be easy for people to think about you as only ink on paper but we’re much more than that.”