Monday, April 30, 2007

Rapid Report's Slow Burn

Rapid Report's Slow Burn
by Lucia Moses

When the Audit Bureau of Circulations launched Rapid Report last July, publishers were said to enthusiastically support the online service, recognizing advertisers wanted to get circulation numbers more frequently than the twice-annual publisher’s statements. In fact, 15 percent of ABC magazine members surveyed said they expected to sign up for the free, voluntary service.

Almost a year later, a mere 70 titles have signed on—less than 9 percent of all magazine members and far below the 250 or so of the biggest publications that the service was aimed at. And one of the charter participants and biggest supporters, American Media Inc., has stopped reporting numbers for Star, one of its biggest titles.

While all the major publishing houses have at least some representation, media buyers said that without participation by all the magazines in a given category and by newsstand-heavy titles, the service has little utility.

Still, there’s no talk of shelving the service anytime soon, which provides topline circ estimates within weeks of the on-sale date. But ABC board members representing publishers and advertisers said they’re disappointed in the rate of sign-up for the service.

“Rapid Report clearly has the support of [AMI] in terms of large, multi-title companies,” said Jack Hanrahan, U.S. print director, OMD, and a member of the ABC’s magazine buyers’ advisory committee. “It doesn’t have the support of Time Inc., Hachette Filipacchi, Hearst [Magazines], Condé Nast.”

While AMI has had all 13 titles reporting from the start, David Leckey, AMI’s executive vp of consumer marketing and an ABC board member, said the publisher stopped reporting numbers for Star March 12 due to lack of participation by its competitors, although he added it would resume reporting if one of them came on board. “We are commended for taking a leadership role, but I’ve constantly seen it turned against us because competitors have access to Rapid Report,” he said. “The media have used it to a degree against us. We support the ABC’s initiative, but we will not place ourselves at a competitive disadvantage.”

In terms of other publishing companies, OMD’s Hanrahan Time Inc.’s Sports Illustrated is the only weekly participating, and it’s mostly subscription-based. “In Style is a good choice to put on there, even Real Simple, but if you’re focused on what’s the most relevant weekly for buyers to know more about, it would be People,” Hanrahan said. “SI has not even 2.5 percent of its copies in single-copy sales. And [Us Weekly publisher] Wenner Media doesn’t participate at all.”

A Time Inc. rep said the company supported the service and was considering adding other titles. Wenner, meanwhile, wouldn’t comment, and Condé Nast did not return calls. Hachette supports the service, having put on three of its biggest titles—Car and Driver, Road & Track and Woman’s Day—and plans to fold in other titles in the future, a company spokeswoman said. Hearst, with two magazines reporting, is evaluating the accuracy of the data, said John Hartig, head of consumer marketing. “We are open to adding more titles as advertising interest grows, but we’d like to better understand how agencies are using the data before jumping into it full force,” said Hartig.

Publishers have been concerned about rivals seeing their numbers and how buyers will use the data. But buyers said the information provided by Rapid Report is too new and lacking in context to be used to penalize publishers.

“We don’t have enough research to know why newsstand numbers are going down,” said Robin Steinberg, senior vp, director of print investment, MediaVest USA, and an ABC board liaison. “This report was created simply to help manage and view the numbers at a more rapid rate. The biggest challenge voiced by publishers is the fear of buyers making immediate plan changes based on these fluctuations. However, the reality, is we don’t make changes based on a single piece of information.”

As for publisher objections that the process is cumbersome and numbers are a moving target, Leckey said that as the person who posts AMI’s data, he can attest that it’s not, adding that there’s no deadline to file and numbers can be updated continually. “It’s Turbo Tax,” he said. “It’s very, very easy.”

Observers said the low level of Rapid Report participation is a stumbling block to fulfilling the desire many publishers have to move to an audience-based measurement system, and that the ABC may eventually have to pull the plug. “I don’t think we need to get 100 percent [of ABC members] on Rapid Report, but I’d like to see us get to 20 percent of our membership,” Leckey said. “If participation’s not there, [the ABC] may have to rethink their allocation of resources.”

Another ABC director, Judy Vogel, research director at PHD USA, put the onus partly on her peers to increase participation. “I believe the buyers are not screaming enough about it,” she said. “Short of something that is somewhat punitive, what repercussions are there if they don’t participate? We’ve got to send a stronger message to publishers.”

The prince of magazine publishing

Zinczenko is the prince of magazine publishing
Commentary: Men's Health editor says that branding means everything
By Jon Friedman, MarketWatch

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- David Zinczenko, the editor of Men's Health magazine, is the prince of the New York publishing scene.
He's also the editorial director of Best Life, a Men's Health spinoff; the best-selling author of the "Abs Diet" books; and a frequent guest on NBC's more "Today." Zinczenko hit the big, big time last Friday by appearing on "Oprah," the most influential talk show on television. No wonder everyone in New York seems to recognize the 37-year-old journalist.

When I arrived at the chic Soho House Thursday night to meet Zinczenko for drinks, a brunette hostess nodded and said, "Yes, we know him." A tall blonde standing next to her gushed: "And we love him."

So should Rodale, which publishes Men's Health. The monthly just had the biggest first quarter in its 20-year history, racking up an ad-page gain of 23% over the same period in 2006. Its May 2007 issue has a hefty 192 pages and features Eric Dane of "Grey's Anatomy" on the cover, with an advertising-page increase of 31% over last year.

Zinczenko attributes the magazine's progress to its devotion to readers. "You have to communicate with the reader on every single page," he said. "You have got to show them what you stand for."

Men's Health dedicates itself to helping its readers lead more fulfilling lives. Of course, its contents take many forms, from the panting "More Sex! Hotter Sex!" headline on the May cover to Ben Stein's "Read This, Retire Rich" piece on page 136.

Editors will pick up their Ellie prizes at the annual National Magazine Awards Tuesday night in New York. While Men's Health didn't garner as many nominations as other titles, it got a measure of satisfaction when it was named best performer in circulation for 2006 by the Capell's Circulation Report, an influential digest in media circles.

In publishing today, success can hinge on how well a company can create brand awareness. Zinczenko has become a media magnet, whether it's for building a strong franchise at Rodale, or for formerly dating "Grindhouse" co-star Rose McGowan (who appears on the cover of the current Rolling Stone), or for memorably telling Jon Stewart at a magazine-industry function that "thin is the new rich."

To Zinczenko's occasional chagrin, this native of Allentown, Pa., is also mentioned conspicuously on the Gawker Web site, which delights in zinging him over his social life. If Zinczenko reminded me of a movie character, I'd have to peg him as Eric "Otter" Stratton, the oh-so-suave guy in "Animal House," who tweaks his enemies and always has the last laugh.

The industry, noting that Zinczenko can create excitement, asked him to chair its annual American Magazine Conference in October. "We want people to leave this conference saying it was mind-blowing," the editor said with his characteristic enthusiasm.

"Dave's brand is successful, and he is a brand in and of himself," according to Howard Polskin, senior vice president of the Magazine Publishers of America trade association. "He's a good flag-carrier for the magazine industry."

Zinczenko said that his magazine "has a very strong sense of mission. We are relentless about spreading our gospel," which focuses on helping men live better.
With some magazines, it's hard to pin down what they're all about. But Men's Health is clear: "Everything we do is strategic," he added.

But Zinczenko has his limits. He scoffed at gossip that he would be hosting a dating show on television. "I absolutely won't," he told me. "If I won't do 'The Bachelor,' I won't host a dating show."

Why not? "It's not the right branding opportunity for the magazine," he replied.
Zinczenko learned the hard way about the pitfalls of exposure. A few years ago, Stewart, the witty and acerbic host of "The Daily Show," led a panel discussion about the relative vitality of magazines with prominent editors, including Zinczenko.

I was there and I took notes. But the only comment I remember was Zinczenko saying "thin is the new rich" -- a quip that fell flat and drew a long stare from Stewart. It wasn't all bad, though. It ended up on the media blogs and Zinczenko achieved a measure of fame from the incident. (I still wonder if he planned it that way all along.)

"It turned into a roast," Zinczenko recalled. "For better or worse, I decided to prove a point. I wasn't going to play dead."
When I asked him how he sees his role at Men's Health, he said: "I'm a servant to the brand."

Former tennis star Andre Agassi once famously and foolishly remarked that "image is everything." Zinczenko would say he got it wrong. Branding is everything.
MEDIA WEB QUESTION OF THE DAY: What's your favorite magazine and why?

Garden & Gun Magazine Has an Awkward Debut

Garden & Gun Magazine Has an Awkward Debut
Garden & Gun Magazine Has an Awkward Debut

Garden & Gun, a glossy new lifestyle magazine from Charleston, S.C., says it is for those who love “an adventure-bound, art-loving, skeet-shooting lifestyle.” In reality, the magazine is less about guns than it is about gardens, “Southern tradition” and land conservation. The gun part of the title, said Rebecca Darwin, the magazine’s publisher, is a metaphor for “the sporting life.”

It is also an inside reference to a popular ’70s Charleston disco called the Garden and Gun Club.

The name might not have raised an eyebrow had not the premiere issue arrived on newsstands just days before the shootings at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., on April 16. Ms. Darwin said only one critical e-mail message was received, among many positive ones, but others in the magazine industry noted the unfortunate timing.

Ms. Darwin, a former publisher of The New Yorker and Mirabella, said that there were no guns in the first issue. The “sporting life” piece is an article by George Black on trout fishing in Georgia.

Garden & Gun, which is published by the Evening Post Publishing Company, has an initial distribution of 150,000 and plans to publish five issues this year and 10 in 2008.

Samir Husni, the head of the University of Mississippi’s journalism department, said that he winced when he saw the name. “In this day and age, any title that you have to explain, you know it’s not the right title.”

But Ms. Darwin, who had 20 years of publishing experience in New York before returning to her South Carolina roots, said she was confident of the magazine’s appeal. “There are 40 million people that enjoy hunting and fishing; when you get outside of New York City, there is a whole other world out there.” LIA MILLER