June 25, 2024

The Media Equation: Now to Sell Advertisers on Tablets

What would it be worth to reach the same reader if he or she were on an iPad? More, less or the same?

That is the one very pertinent question after an active week in magazine publishers’ fitful effort to be part of, rather than run over by, the digital revolution. Hearst Magazines struck a deal to sell three of its magazines — Esquire, Popular Mechanics and O, the Oprah Magazine — for the iPad, using Apple’s subscription model, beginning in July. Hearst is the first major publisher to agree to sell multiple magazines in the app store.

The Hearst announcement comes on the heels of word that Time Inc. negotiated an agreement with Apple in which subscribers to Sports Illustrated, Time and Fortune would be able to read their magazines on the iPad free as long as they verified their identity. (Both deals were first reported in The Wall Street Journal.) And there are indications that Condé Nast, the third part of the triumvirate, will actually be the first to market among major publishers with iPad subscriptions to some of its bigger magazines.

The deals represent a significant thaw between the technologists in Cupertino, Calif., and the mandarins of Manhattan publishing. According to the publisher in each of those discussions, Apple, which has a reputation for setting unilateral terms, demonstrated some degree of flexibility around pricing, terms and custody of data.

And that incremental progress is on top of a decision in March from the Audit Bureau of Circulations that each of those digital subscriptions will count toward the all-important rate base — the number of copies used to sell advertising — even if the electronic version is not precisely identical to the print edition.

Anybody in publishing will tell you that the prices they can charge advertisers for print (and now tablet) subscribers are far above the commodity pricing that rules on Web-based content. As more and more magazines end up in people’s laps, backlighted and without a mailing label, it’s a huge win for magazines, right?

Not so fast, said Robin Steinberg, executive vice president and director of publishing investment and activation for MediaVest. She helps giants like Kraft and Wal-Mart make ad-buying decisions. Ms. Steinberg sent a pre-emptive letter to publishers on April 29 suggesting that she and her clients would not simply go along with the assumption that a digital subscriber should count the same as a paper one.

Although she is on the Audit Bureau board and voted in favor of the changes, Ms. Steinberg made it clear that she wanted her clients to have the flexibility to opt in and out of digital editions. In a tart reminder that these are the early days of the process, she wrote that for media buyers, it was “critical that we determine how copies are qualified and counted when served either traditionally or digitally.”

In other words, if her clients want to buy apples, they will buy apples (print subscribers) and if they are in the mood for oranges (digital subscribers) they expect to make a separate and presumably lower-cost purchase. And she stressed that buyers were keeping a close eye on digital subscriptions to make sure that they did not become the electronic equivalent of a New Jersey landfill, a place where unwanted copies were dumped to make the numbers look good.

Ms. Steinberg’s letter was a signal that the Audit Bureau ruling was the beginning of that negotiation, not the end, and publishers had best be transparent about their circulation figures.

“Publishers are most comfortable with traditional metrics because their business models have been structured around these data points for years,” she said. “There is an increasing need to evolve and reinvent archaic practices into modern approaches, delivering and reporting audience- and engagement-based measurement.”

She also suggested that simply replicating the existing print ads and editorial experience in pixels represented a failure of imagination and adaptation. “Delivering the right creative experience is key. Consumers demand and expect something very different from these devices,” she added

E-mail: carr@nytimes.com;

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=035aec45d62458947426babad0c084b9

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