Onward ho, and don’t look back

On Thursday, June 21, PMB 2001 cast a new light on Canada's magazine readership landscape, and confusion will ensue as buyers and sellers, planners and publishers, adjust to their new surroundings. It's like going back to your hometown and finding everything has changed. That big room now looks small. The small tree now looks big. Things have changed, but not uniformly.

On Thursday, June 21, PMB 2001 cast a new light on Canada’s magazine readership landscape, and confusion will ensue as buyers and sellers, planners and publishers, adjust to their new surroundings. It’s like going back to your hometown and finding everything has changed. That big room now looks small. The small tree now looks big. Things have changed, but not uniformly.

Although Reader’s Digest still holds the number-one slot in English Canada, other titles moved dramatically. TV Times moved to number seven (from number two). The new number two title, Healthwatch, wasn’t in the top ten last year. Big rank changes can be seen in French Canada as well. Coup de Pouce, moved to the number-five spot from number nine, while Le Lundi, which was number five, moved to the number-10 position. Generally readership levels for monthly titles have grown more than for weekly titles. And there’s a blurring of profile befitting titles whose overall readership levels climbed markedly.

This kind of perception rattling experience happens frequently in our business. That’s because we spend most of our time trying to observe the unobservable. We can never truly observe and understand the collective minds of consumers as they intellectually digest advertising messages contained in media vehicles. So we use surrogates to help us out. It’s a lot like watching flashes of light in heavy water at the bottom of a nickel mine in Sudbury as a surrogate for observing the unobservable Neutrino.

For the past two decades, the challenge of coping with the unobservable act of millions of Canadians reading thousands of print ads in hundreds of magazines has been administered by PMB by way of a readership methodology surrogate called Through The Book.

If you were part of PMB’s 1999 sample, you would have been shown the cover of a magazine in order to determine readership. Over time, Canada became an international odd-man out as most countries moved away from TTB and employed versions of a methodology called Recent Reading.

Last year, Canada made the move to Recent Reading. TTB could no longer cope with the demand for measurement from Canada’s growing number of titles.

If you had been part of this year’s Recent Reading interview, you would have told the interviewer if you had read any issue of a magazine title within optional timeframes: a very different approach producing very different levels of readership.

The most dramatic, general observation is that the new measure has produced bigger overall readership numbers. The 12+ readership numbers jumped by 150% and 87% for English and French language magazine titles, respectively, between PMB 2000 and 2001.

As a result, our magazine readership levels, which once resided well below international averages, are now on par with the rest of the world. Perhaps that marketing VP in the U.S. will stop telling you how much less efficient Canadian magazines are relative to U.S. titles.

Media surrogates are changing quite frequently these days. Sometimes the old surrogate must be retired because it can’t deal with changing conditions (such as PMB). Sometimes a new surrogate is adopted because it becomes technically feasible to do so (BBM radio metres). Sometimes competition drives the change in surrogate (BBM TV metres).

Media managers are on one-way streets, heading forward. The new data can be used to affect future media decisions, but buyers can’t reasonably try to obtain reparation for past underachievement, just as sellers cannot reasonably request bonus payment for past overachievement in view of the new media measurement surrogate. That would be a media absurdity. Since we don’t have surrogate ‘time-machines,’ past activity based upon old surrogate deals cease to exist once the new surrogate data appears.

So will print buyers and magazine sellers move their money around differently next year because of the new magazine readership landscape? Certainly. Will they explode in a frenzy of name-calling, demanding reparations for wrongs committed in the past? Nope, because the media lesson here is… ‘You can’t go home again!’

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Rob Young, a founding partner and SVP, planning and research, at Toronto-based Harrison, Young, Pesonen & Newell, is chairman of the Print Measurement Bureau. He can be reached at ryoung@hypn.com. For comments on PMB 2001 from industry types, see page 3.