Do Circulation Figures Even Matter Anymore?

The marketing landscape is a multi-channel environment, and the modern consumer journey reflects this. Yet print and web metrics are still tightly siloed, notes Tim Langford in InPublishing, with print’s circulation figures often looking like the loser, as the industry has yet to develop any meaningful metrics for print in the digital age.

“The trouble is – and despite ABCs efforts to try and join everything up – print and web are still siloed (especially client/agency – side), despite many publishers understanding fundamentally that the key to success for their clients is a blended approach,” Langford writes.

He notes that readers in print are more loyal and typically represent a different demographic from a brand’s online readers, and are also more engaged with the brand overall.

“How can that be quantified and audited cost-effectively? All that seems to have happened is that rate cards for print have stayed the same and yields have declined (although in our particular market we have bucked both those trends),” Langford continues. “I would argue that pound for pound, those same print readers of 10 or 15 years ago are considerably more valuable to an advertiser now.”

Langford is an advocate of transparency and veracity in audit figures; he is certainly not advocating for a return to what he calls “the bad old days” when print publishers padded their distribution figures to raise their ad rates. He sees a quite different situation now, especially as it relates to ABC audit figures in the UK.

“Sadly, I cannot recall the last time a client asked us about ABC / BPWWs or the like. We have just completed our 2018 audits, and not one member of the sales team has commented back when we distributed the certificates! There is no fanfare. That is the real problem: it is not the audits themselves that are the problem, but no-one anymore seems to care about them, and that is the biggest problem that ABC (and by definition, the industry) has to tackle.”

How do you measure the value of a KPI? Clearly we know a “like” on your social post doesn’t come anywhere near the value of 15 minutes spent with your printed product. Yet the industry has, as yet, little way to measure the value of a customer experience cross-channel, even though we know multi-channel ads work in favor of print.

We can talk about the effectiveness of print as a marketing channel till the cows come home, but the print industry needs to develop a solid system of metrics that can stand alongside digital KPIs to give advertisers a more accurate picture of what they are buying instead of going for short-term numbers.