Thursday, July 03, 2008

'Buy Safe' Campaign Organizers Rebuke Criticism

'Buy Safe' Campaign Organizers Rebuke Criticism
By Bill Mickey
Publishers weigh in; BPA, ABC Defend Initiative.
Buy Safe Media, the BPA and ABC-backed campaign warning marketers against buying ads in non-audited b-to-b publications, has faced unusually harsh criticism since its launch last week.

Industry pundits, including consultant and noted columnist Bob Sacks, were among the first to weigh in on the program, calling the initiative "an attack at the heart of the entrepreneurial publishing business." Sacks wrote: "The new pathology actually disgusts me."

Samir "Mr. Magazine" Husni lamented "how low some folks in our industry are willing to sink in order to make their business flourish."

And it wasn't just pundits who were disturbed. At Access Intelligence, where several prominent titles remain un-audited, including CableFax and MIN, Sylvia Sierra, SVP, corporate audience development, downplays the need for an audit. "Some of our strongest brands are not audited and take advertising. It is hard to argue the $1,000-per year subscription value that readers place on the information and advertisers place on reach."

A 'Legitimate Beef'

Yet, Ted Bahr, president of BZ Media, and an official supporter of the Buy Safe campaign is more concerned about the publishers that fly under the radar and push inflated or inaccurate metrics.

"I am spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to acquire and maintain the circulation I am claiming, then I spend the money maintaining it in BPA required formats, then I pay BPA between $10,000-$15,000 to audit my books," he says. "That's the ethical standard for publishing in this industry. My competitors are therefore able to spend way less than I do, and compete with me by cheating and lying to our mutual customers. My only recourse is to try and educate the advertisers that they need to pressure these outlaws into auditing."

BPA CEO Glenn Hansen adds, "Publishers that have made that investment have a legitimate beef with those that cannot demonstrate from an independent verification that they have made that same investment."

Ditto for the Audit Bureau of Circulations, which also backs the Buy Safe program as a partner. "The campaign site specifically notes that auditing is not a necessity for all publications," says Neal Lulofs, ABC's SVP, communications and strategic planning. "I can't fathom why the promotion of media auditing would 'disgust' someone. We are an auditing firm and we are promoting the benefits of auditing-for publishers and buyers alike. We are not 'forcing' anyone to become audited. But in competitive environments, buyers usually insist on it. For instance, there isn't a single paid-circ newspaper above 25,000 in the U.S. that isn't audited. That's not because we force them to do that, but because audited newspapers attract more ad dollars."

A Question of Demand

Yet smaller ad buyers-as BPA confirmed when it was surveying client-side media buyers prior to launching the campaign-may not care or even know about audits. At Hanley Wood, which has several un-audited titles in its stable of more than 30 magazines, auditing is more of a case-by-case consideration. "It depends on the advertiser market," says Nick Cavnar, VP circulation and database development. "Advertiser markets dominated by small advertisers that don't work through agencies aren't that familiar with the statement format. They don't understand it so there's not a great demand for it."

This is precisely why BPA launched the Buy Safe Media campaign, but Cavnar focuses on the practicalities of auditing. "If we don't have advertisers asking for one, then we may not audit the magazine. We work according to what advertisers are looking for. We run the circulation the same way whether it's audited or not. It's a question of whether it's something that helps in the advertising sales."

Audit Landscape Getting Complicated

Sacks and Husni took the Buy Safe program to task because they say it's magazines attacking magazines, and that energy could be better applied to arguing the print medium's viability against other media-TV, radio, and online.

Yet Hansen circles back to accountability and the advertiser's demand for it. "In a perfect market, where all magazines are audited, I think Bob and Samir are justified in saying, 'Don't fight among yourselves, fight against other media. But in a market where we're not all yet at the same level playing field, I think that's an unfair expectation on their behalf. It's not the fact that it's BPA or ABC-it's the fact that they've made the investment in developing quality audience and they can prove that and that gives the advertiser accountability."

But, according to Access Intelligence's Sierra, there is a bigger picture to be focusing on-the mash-up of media platforms. "We are now media companies whose portfolios include print magazines and many other assets," she says. "Most of the other assets (Web sites, e-letters, trade shows, Webinars, paid information) are not audited, and yet, revenue is shifting from print magazine advertising to the other assets. Advertisers want to know 'Who are these people?' and the audit bureaus are not showing reach, only numbers. I can't think of a single reason to pay for the current audit offerings given their shortcomings."

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Real Viability of Digital Editions

The Real Viability of Digital Editions
By Bob Sacks

Resistance to digital magazines is futile. Here's why.
I've been inundated lately with e-mail requests about the viability of digital magazine editions. The letter that put me over the top was from an old and dear acquaintance, who is a senior production director, that said, "Digital editions of magazines will never get traction with the magazine-reading public." This is a ridiculous attitude. And if it is yours, too, bury it now with other ridiculous ideas like the world is flat and man will never fly.

Perhaps Jeff Gomez, author of the book "Print Is Dead," put it best when he wrote: "To expect future generations to be satisfied with printed books is like expecting the BlackBerry users of today to start communicating by writing letters, stuffing envelopes and licking stamps."

Do we expect magazine readers to become any less sophisticated as time and technology roll by? Things change, platforms evolve, business models adjust, and people's habits change, too. History is loaded with once-successful personal methodologies that are now nothing but antiquated dust.

This is not a discussion of whether or not print will survive. That is moot. What is important is how people will read in the future. Gomez's comment is spot on. How people read today gives us the smallest inkling of how people will read in the future. I'd be curious to know the number of words read on a computer screen (including PDAs, cell phones, e-readers, etc.) versus those read in print.

Digital editions will play a central role in the magazine business's future success. They are growing in popularity, and eventually will become ubiquitous. The only thing holding the format back presently is a perfect substrate. Computer screens are good for the task, but not perfect in their portability, flexibility and readability in various lighting conditions. What the industry is waiting for is a substrate that can match the robust nature and inherent abilities in digital editions.

The new technology is not far-off science fiction. The future is here now; it is just not widely distributed. Amazon's Kindle, Sony's Reader and several others are e-paper devices, and they are available now. These devices will not go away; they will only get better and more advanced at what they do-distribute content. In 2011, there will be full-color versions of e-paper products released. By 2025, e-paper devices will be the predominant way in which people read. And they will most likely be reading some formulation of digital-edition technology.

Perhaps we need to look at it this way: When will the digital page be more user-friendly than the printed page? Is it so impossible to foresee a future of comfort and ease holding a full-color, flexible screen that has the ability to project any book or any magazine with greater richness and depth of coverage than its printed predecessor?

Gomez hypothesized that, "It's not about the page versus the screen in a technological grudge match. It's about the screen doing a dozen things the page can't do." Digitized words should count for more. "What's going to be transformed isn't just the reading of one book, but the ability to read a passage from practically any book that exists, at any time that you want to, as well as the ability to click on hyperlinks, experience multimedia, and add notes and share passages with others," Gomez noted.

The same logic holds true for magazines. This is not a Hamlet-type argument, "to read or not to read." It is a question of what format/platform we will be most comfortable reading in the future. Nowhere in history do you find society willingly going backward. As Jerry Garcia is reported to have once said, "You are either on the bus or off the bus."

Bob Sacks (aka BoSacks) is a printing/publishing industry consultant and president of The Precision Media Group ( He is also the co-founder of the research company Media-Ideas (, and publisher and editor of a daily international e-newsletter, Heard on the Web. Sacks has held posts as director of manufacturing and distribution, senior sales manager (paper), chief of operations, pressman, circulator and almost every other job this industry has to offer.