Special Report: The Positioning of Magazines: Reader panel helps lend insight for TV Guide

In this report, the editors of a half-dozen consumer magazines - Clin D'Oeil, Cottage Life, Saturday Night, Shift, Toronto Life and TV Guide - explain what they are doing to better understand their readers and how they are positioning their product...

In this report, the editors of a half-dozen consumer magazines – Clin D’Oeil, Cottage Life, Saturday Night, Shift, Toronto Life and TV Guide – explain what they are doing to better understand their readers and how they are positioning their product against other media.

As well, reporter David Chilton looks at the effect on the Canadian magazine industry of proposed decreases in postal rate subsidies.

Nicholas Hirst

TV Guide

Q. What methods do you use to identify and understand your readership so that you can tailor articles and editorial content to their needs?

A. We use [readership data from] pmb [Print Measurement Bureau,] plus return-to-sample surveys.

We also test out ideas for changes by introducing them in a single market from our 18 editions and then do statistical testing on readers’ acceptance.

We have a reader panel, which we poll, and from which we have drawn focus groups.

We also pay attention to phone calls and letters. We receive market research information from a number of sources on the state of the nation.

Q. How has your strategy changed over the past several years, given increasing fragmentation and the predicted decline of print in the face of other media?

A. I am not sure that I accept the premise that TV Guide faces a decline in the face of other media, or that fragmentation is a problem for us.

Rather, I believe that guiding people through the many choices of television watching will become an increasingly important function and that we will be the prime providers of that.

Our strategy to attract and maintain readers is to provide the pre-eminent magazine to guide readers through the morass of television programming.

The guiding principle is paramount.

We are a magazine for people who like to watch television. That drives everything we do.

From us, you will get more information about network, specialty or pay tv by the day or week than with any other magazine.

We are the television watcher’s guiding hand and companion.

We will provide more detail, more background and more information about all the stars, the celebrities and behind-the-camera experts who produce television than anyone else.

We enhance television viewing by making the audience more knowledgeable about what they are watching.

Q. What characteristics must an effective editor possess to ensure relevant editorial content today, as opposed to the editor of five years ago?

A. Again, I am not sure how to answer this question in the context of magazines – I was previously a newspaper editor.

I believe, however, that to succeed, an editor must have a clear vision of what he wants to achieve and communicate that to his staff and readers – for ‘him’ read ‘her’ as well.

He must allow stories to be created at any level, to be driven sometimes by art, sometimes by story, sometimes by information, and sometimes by good writing.

I believe the biggest problem with print journalism today is a failure to co-ordinate all elements of the creative process.

An additional problem in Canada is that so much information flows over the border.

Canadians too often feel they are writing secondary information, while the primary information is supplied from the u.s.

Canadians have to see themselves as primary story writers and editors, and to dovetail their information to a sensibility that is different, subtly, to that south of the border.

Q. What manner of input or guidance do you get from publishers and salespeople in determining the editorial direction of the magazine?

A. The publisher is a kind and supportive critic of the magazine.

We share an editorial vision.

I listen to what sales has to say and pay detailed attention to what works and what does not work on the newsstands.