The Verdict: Digital magazine replicas

PHD’s Bookbinder and Media Experts' D’Orazio lend their expert advice on ad value across print and digital editions.

Recently, the Audit Bureau of Circulations changed the criteria required for advertising in digital editions, stating an ad in a print edition need not be identical to one in the digital edition for the copy to count towards the magazine’s circulation base.

This prompted US MediaVest exec Robin Steinberg to urge media agencies to stop accepting ad rates based on circulation that includes digital replicas. The value of such ads, she argues, has not been proven via measurement data to be equal to print.

For a Canadian perspective, we asked senior media agency executives Brenda Bookbinder, VP print director, PHD, and Flavia D’Orazio, customer services, Media Experts, to weigh in with a Verdict.

Should digitally served ads be counted as equal to print-served ads in the publishers’ ad rates?

Flavia D’Orazio: The pricing models for print and digital advertising are different, and for good reason. They are distinct creatures. There’s much to be considered on the digital side beginning with the quality of the digital replica. Is it in a static PDF format or is it interactive? What is the true value of the ads in the digital replica?

Consumers are not enticed by static ads online; it is a different medium that requires a digital approach. The digital landscape offers the opportunity to adapt the advertisement from a static experience to a multifaceted one including interactivity, audio and video enhancing the brand experience.

Many publishers have been force-fitting a print execution onto a digital platform, which fails miserably at taking advantage of everything the digital environment has to offer. Further, ad agencies should be offered the opportunity to purchase digital space on a CPM, CPC and/or CPA basis wherever possible, as we would on most other digital sites.

Brenda Bookbinder:
With the introduction of online ads in the early 2000s we perhaps thought we had made it through the digital transition, but it is now clear we were just at the beginning of a monumental shift. It’s the wild West and we are all creating our own future: the media, the agencies and the marketers. The difficulty, I believe, is in the myriad of digital versions there are out there, from the static Winnipeg Free Press to the People Magazine app. 

The future is digital and I believe we need to create for advertisers as smooth a transition from the printed version to the digital version as possible, because this is not a full stop change but a fluid one that will be ongoing for a number of years. If the advertiser is reaching out to the readers of the National Post, does it make a difference if they reach them on their iPad or their hard copy? No, I don’t think so. What will matter is the quality of the ad that is being served. If the ad has the opportunity for the same exposure and the same experience for the viewer then it should be counted as equal. 

Is it fair to count digital replicas towards a magazine’s overall circulation?

This depends on how they are distributed. I believe if they are requested they can be counted. Advertisers need to be able to differentiate between the digital circ and the hard copy as well as have the option to buy one or the other or both. There is no need for a shell game.

FD: ABC’s recent decision to modify their guidelines makes it even easier than before for a publisher to include their digital replicas in their rate base circulation. In print, the ad rates are based on a guaranteed audited circulation further qualified by readers per copy. Digital replicas should not be automatically counted as guaranteed circulation toward the print edition.

Digital replicas need to be handled in a different manner, one that is more indicative of the digital industry. A consumer will interact differently with a digital replica and this is not being considered when each digital replica is counted as equal.

What ABC’s change underscores is a need for greater transparency regarding what is being counted by the publisher. There is huge difference between digital copies sent and digital copies that are opened by a reader. The metrics should reflect how digital media is measured. Did the reader interact with the advertisement? And for how long? How is this behaviour being tracked? How are the publishers reporting this activity?

The quality of digital replicas must be re-evaluated and this value should not be determined solely by the publisher.