Why do magazine publishers use readership to fool advertisers?
Well, I definitely believe that this question is predicated upon a false premise. Advertisers aren’t fooled by inflated readership numbers but rather are more concerned with more “concrete” metrics like print run, circulation, distribution, demographics, etc. The act of ascertaining a magazine’s readership is a rather nebulous affair that is tantamount to another term that is thrown around by the magazine publishing community in the hopes of influencing potential advertisers: the “pass along rate.” This is the supposed number of times that each copy of a magazine gets “passed along” to another reader.
A more accurate picture of a magazine’s readership is painted via the magazine’s circulation and distribution method(s). With this said, however, one should not, of course, confuse a magazine’s print run with its total circulation for the two are not necessarily one in the same. Let’s be clear; “circulation” answers the question: “How many?” and is synonymous with the total number of magazine copies that is made available to the magazine’s demographic via a distribution method. The term “distribution” answers the questions: “Where and How?” and is indicative of the total number of points/locations to which the magazine is sent (and by what means: paid, free, etc..) for the targeted reader demographic. The print run, on the other hand, is simply indicative of the total number of magazines printed per each issue. If, as in Darren’s case with Campus News, the print run is 10,000 copies, that does not tell a potential advertiser how many magazines are actually circulated. Advertisers will calculate a magazine’s “ad rate base;” which is the actual number of magazines that is circulated per issue to the targeted demographic, predicated upon the total number of magazines in the magazine’s circulation mix. What do I mean? Well, let’s look at this terse hypothetical magazine circulation mix example:
Print run: 10,000
Expos & Special Events: 1,500
Paid distribution: 6,000
From this example, the ad rate base would be predicated upon the 2,000 subscribers and the 6,000 copies circulated via paid distribution. Ad media buyers would not necessarily be inclined to include the 1,500 copies utilized for Expos and Special Events unless it could be clearly demonstrated that these events are specifically geared towards the magazine’s core reader demographic. The 500 miscellaneous copies would also be excluded. Thus, the ad rate base in this example would be 8,000 magazines. Simply put, the advertising rates for this magazine should be calculated on a CPM (Cost Per Thousands) based upon 8,000 magazines per issue and not 10,000 magazines; the effective print run! It’s worth stating that it is incumbent upon the magazine publisher to specifically state, usually in the Ad Rates section of a magazine’s media kit, what the actual ad rate base is, so that potential advertisers, and especially ad agency media buyers, can compare CPMs of various magazines to ascertain, in conjunction with other analyzed metrics, which magazines offer the best media buy for their clients.
To be sure, one way to effectively assuage the trepidation of would be advertisers and ad media buyers is to have a magazine audited by a major auditing bureau such as ABC, BPA Worldwide and VAC. A magazine that has an auditing report from any of these auditors has invested a lot of time, and a considerable amount of money, to assure potential advertisers that their circulation is not based upon fluff but, on the contrary, is indeed quite factual.