"There is & #BANNER1 & # no magazine research and that's the fundamental problem," stated Meenakshi Madhvani, managing partner, Spatial Access Solutions, taking the bull by the horns when asked what plagues magazine measurement today. Madhvani was speaking at the Indian Magazine Congress, 2007.
In a session moderated by Lynn de Souza, director, Lintas Media Services, Madhvani went on to say that unless one got a sense of the readers of a magazine and the quality/profiles of these, one couldn't even begin to talk of the effectiveness of magazines. "There's a fundamental difference in the way consumers interact with magazines and newspapers, and we have been unable to capture that as an industry," she said.
Sam Balsara, CMD, Madison World, came to the rescue of the debate. He pointedly asked the audience if they knew what AIR (average issue readership) stood for - very few hands bobbed up. "We have a problem without knowing what the issue is!" he said in response.
He then said that readership surveys were not like the Census - they relied on a small sample to represent the whole pie. And this left room for marginal sampling errors, which was where some publications faced a problem because they were not adequately represented in these surveys.
Balsara admitted that media agencies tended to rely on newspaper studies/data for magazines at times, and that this wasn't a viable option. Perhaps a separate establishment survey for the magazine industry was the answer, he said.
As a magazine was generally accepted as an involving and engaging medium, they tended to deliver well to advertisers. "But at the end of the day, both agencies and advertisers want numbers, which are important in the buying and selling of ad space, and we have to live with it," Balsara said.
Taking off from there, de Souza asked whether developing an exhaustive, nationwide magazine research was the answer. Madhvani was against syndicated research studies conducted by publication houses (often manipulated), and was all for an industry body research study.
Partha Rakshit, MD, ACNielsen South Asia, admitted that there was room for more data on the industry, particularly as magazines were at a disadvantage in the NRS and IRS, which tended to be more skewed towards upper income groups in this case. "But an establishment survey need not necessarily be a solution, as NRS and IRS themselves provide the readership numbers, and hence are establishment surveys in their own right," he said.
Moving away momentarily from research, de Souza touched upon the fact that media planners perceived magazines as being overtly expensive. "Magazines are at the number three spot amongst media that deliver to advertisers," Balsara said. "But then, they do work very well in certain categories."
At the risk of sounding biased, he added that one must get past a magazine's weaknesses and concentrate on its strengths - involvement and engagement. But considering the increasing number of titles and clutter in the magazine space, this might be a bit difficult.
"To tell you the truth, when a medium multiplies and competition explodes, it's bad news for an advertiser," Balsara said. He explained that he had been most comfortable when 'The Times of India' had enjoyed monopoly status: "At least I knew my ads would deliver for sure!"
Madhvani jumped in, "Are you saying that we should have one brand in each segment? Fragmentation is an opportunity for advertisers to expand target bases and do more focused marketing."
What was also particularly alarming was that 20 per cent of the total magazine readership was landing up with 60 per cent of the total magazine ad revenue. "This is the kind of imbalance we need to correct by educating the new generation of media planners about the advantages of various magazines and niches," she said.
A separate research study for magazines was clearly a hot favourite with most of the speakers. De Souza concluded on a positive note, saying that, perhaps, the magazine part of the NRS and IRS studies could be deducted and converted into a separate, exhaustive study meant solely for the magazine industry.