Early last month the publication of the annual Qmags digital magazine survey prompted Marcus Grimm at NXTBook Media to revisit an old bugbear – digital magazine publishers’ use of reader survey data over real traffic data.
After reading a slightly tetchy blog post that he wrote contrasting the 45-minutes reader engagement claimed by the survey and the cast-iron 8-minute average he has analysed from real data on 2 million NXTbook views a month, I asked Marcus to explain exactly what was bugging him and why?
MG: The survey reported that readers said they spent 45 minutes or more reading digital editions. This isn’t real; readers always overstate their engagement with media and this leads publishers and advertiser to unrealistic expectations. There is no good reason to ask readers what they do – any digital magazine platform ‘worth it’s weight in pixels’ will show you.
FP: So you think publishers should be using real data?
MG: When you tell the truth with real data, you can easily build a case for digital magazines. But when you simply ask people what they do, you get incorrect data that does little other than to align yourself with the type of research studies we’ve learn to distrust about other forms of offline media consumption. You look foolish and rather than get readers excited about digital magazines, you end up disappointing them (with engagement numbers way better than their website).
FP: Publishers have always used survey data as a way of “proving” the value of advertising in their publications. Are you suggesting it’s time for this to stop?
MG: We should be asking why publishers have always used survey data? When you ask that question, you quickly realize that because real print data is impossible to come by, survey data is the next best thing; although it’s never been that good and has always been questioned by advertisers. Now, we have the ability to be completely transparent with advertisers, and when we promote survey answers when digital data is readily available, I think it makes us look foolish at best and slightly dishonest at worst.
Can you imagine a truly 100% digital publisher releasing survey data instead of traffic data? It would never happen and yet because publishers have survey data as part of their legacy, they seem inclined to continue to support the usage of it.
FP: Most publishers can’t see past visits and page views. Do you think part of the problem is that publishers don’t know how to interpret their traffic data? What should they be looking for?
MG: Great question. Publishers need to learn the real benefits of each of their products and sell off of their real strengths. For example, websites always generate more page views than digital magazines and digital magazines always trounce websites for engagement time and click-through rates, yet publishers think that since both are digital mediums they should sell the same metrics. Generally speaking, all of our products have (or should have) a reason to be and that reason to be should be obvious in the performance of the products.
FP: You point to the problem of unrealistic expectations. How do publishers manage advertisers expectations? Do organisations like BPA have a responsibility here?
MG: Actually, this is where survey data completely contributes to the problem, rather than helping it. Consider that many B-to-B websites have an average engagement time of three minutes with a CTR of 0.25%. In this scenario, I’d expect their corresponding digital magazine to have about a nine minute engagement time with a CTR of 1.5%. What we have is a definite reason to be for the digital magazine, until somebody releases a report saying that readers claim to spend 30 minutes in the book and half of them say they’ve clicked on an ad.
What happens is predictable; the advertisers quickly stops seeing how much the digital magazine is outperforming the website. Instead, they complain that they’re not seeing near the metrics reported by the survey.
As far as BPA goes, they certainly share a responsibility for helping publishers provide the right data. Unfortunately, as of yet they haven’t seemed to take much of a leadership role in situations like this. From my vantage point, they seem to want to serve their clients more than they want to help guide them to the right place, long-term. I’d like to think that makes Nxtbook a little different. We’re not really interested in promoting thirty minutes of engagement when it isn’t true and will certainly come back to disappoint advertisers and publishers alike down the road.
Disclosure: NXTBook Media is a supplier to my employer.