Presenting total print and digital readership totals can yield mixed results in the real world
Combining digital and print readership works where combined advertising can be sold, otherwise the figures may prove irrelevant to the ad buyer
The great promise of digital media (and digital editions) has always been that publishers could combine the reach of their print and digital products and show advertisers the strength of their audiences. It is why most major consumer magazine titles have enthusiastically embraced digital editions and created “replica editions” to satisfy the rules of the AAM (the ABC outside the US). Many of these “replicas” are realy hybrid editions, where the print ads are duplicated without major changes for the digital edition, while the editorial is reformatted.
While the goal many had was to one day sell new advertising into these digital editions, the real world practice appears to be to continue to sell print, but maintain the rate base by adding in the digital readership. This works as long as advertisers see the digital readership as just as valuable as the print readership – and for the most part they do, and they should.
(Some magazines, however, are actually doing an excellent job of getting their advertisers to submit ad copy for their digital editions in both portrait and landscape orientations. Condé Nast, for instance, is one that is leading the way, and the issues of Vanity Fair are often quite impressive in this regard.)
But combining the readership of print and digital can be completely irrelevant in situations where the ad decisions are not also combined. For instance, is it really relevant to combine print and web readerships? The answer is sometimes, but certainly not always.
In some cases, the combining of print and digital readership may make a publication feel good about itself, but it may not result in advertisers buying it.
Today, for instance, PressGazette reproduced some readership numbers for UK newspapers showing that the “Mail titles are the most read newspaper brand in the UK.” The Mail trails The Sun in print circulation, but thanks to a new paywall at The Sun, the Mail Online has helped the brand beat out its rival in total reach. The question is whether the Mail will be able to translate that data point into any meaningful gains in advertising. It will be a tough sell, mostly because those responsible for web advertising decisions may not influence print buying decisions. Further, those selling print and digital, are often good at selling one platform, while weak at the other.
The situation for newspapers gets even more complicated when mobile and tablet readership is considered. Are the readers of one’s iPad edition the same as print? or the web? I suppose it depends on the kind of mobile or tablet edition one produces, right? Certainly the RSS feed driven digital editions produced by the NYT, for instance, is very much similar to their web offerings. As a result, the advertising is sold as digital. But a tablet edition of a magazine is sold as digital pages (if sold separately) in a fashion that is more like print. But the practice varies wildly from publisher to publisher, product to product.
And that’s the point, it isn’t as clear simply combining all the readership numbers together and selling that across the board to all advertisers. If it was, many publishers would play the web game of driving up their readership even more the way Internet pure plays do, while killing off their print editions completely. Some actually have, though I doubt any have that at the same time feel they are still selling high levels of print-only advertising.