Mary Berner Strikes Back at BoSacks on MPA 360 Data

Last week we highlighted an insightful article that Bob Sacks (aka BoSacks) penned on the new magazine success metrics being used by the Association of Magazine Media (MPA). In a nutshell, the data now focuses on third-party data like unique visits, download rates and social media engagement to measure a magazine’s “success.” They’ve done away with their reports on ad page numbers, print circulation and newsstand sales.

BoSacks took issue with this approach, as did we when it was announced last summer. In his article, he asked:

“What does a ‘like’ mean to your business? Does it mean anything at all? The fact that it is now more important to track ‘likes’ on Facebook, pictures on Instagram, and conversations on Google+ rather than to face the nuts and bolts realities of the publishing business’ main revenue streams still seems a bit unusual.  I must admit that eventually some of those numbers might be more important than actual print statistics, but not yet and not now, and not the numbers we are collecting.”

BoSacks warned the industry to beware the prevailing trend that appears to “camouflage the continuous array of bad stats and sublimate them with always positive web-only engagement data.”

The article was picked up by Folio, complete with a critical response from Mary Berner in defense of the MPA.

“While I always appreciate your often thought-provoking point of view, even when it isn’t a positive one, I take exception when the point-of-view is derived from inaccurate information as in your column ‘Truth In Advertising – Magazine Statistics, Magnet, MIN, and MPA 360’. While you usually call it like it is, in this case, you called it like it isn’t,” Berner responded.

Ouch. Berner takes issue with BoSacks “conflating” the data from MPA 360 and MIN (which only serves to demonstrate the confusion around the issue in the industry – many believe that MPA changed the rules, forcing MIN to change the way they reported. It’s complicated at best.)

Calling print ad page metrics “anachronistic,” Berner adds that “the only way to accurately portray the advertising performance of a particular magazine brand would be to capture the activity across platforms and formats in a given week or month. At this point—there isn’t any way to accurately do that for magazine media or ANY OTHER media for that matter—hence the focus on the one common and comparable currency: CONSUMER DEMAND (which is what Magazine Media 360 captures).”

While capturing consumer demand is great, we feel Berner missed a huge point that BoSacks was trying to make. For the majority of publishers, print remains the primary revenue channel, regardless of whether print sales are up, down or stable.

In an article today in WWD, Berner defends the new metrics. Asserting that audience is more important than circulation, Berner states that “print no longer captures advertising performance for a brand. It captures the print performance. Without the other parts of the pie, you can’t have a full picture of what happened to a brand for that month. Absent that, we can’t continue to give one part of [the pie] because it will be extrapolated as the only performance metric.”

Agreed — a complete picture is quite necessary. And a HUGE part of that picture remains ad page sales, circulation numbers and newsstand sales. Which we no longer get from the MPA.

Berner admits that media buyers are not using the 360 data to buy ads, “because it’s just launched. We’re in the process of doing a road show with advertisers. Do they yet plan with it? I don’t know yet, but it gives them visibility.”

We’re not sold.