ABCs are the most up-to-date, reliable numbers that magazines have
to play with and can provide a good idea of readership levels. Sales
figures, however, represent the tip of the iceberg when it comes to
planning magazine campaigns. Recently, the Audit Bureau of Circulations
has made real improvements in the depth of its analysis. But its figures
are still just one tool media planners and buyers use to assess what
each title offers in the way of readership.
In the past few months, the ABC has taken steps to give more information
about the make-up of the buyer base. It has addressed questions such as
were the copies bought from the newsstand or were they via
Were they bulk sales given away as part of a marketing initiative? Were
they sold outside of the UK, and if so, where?
Those changes are welcome. The more information about the type of sale,
the better. Distinguishing paid-for copies from others is important.
Free copies are great at promoting trial but are not necessarily read.
The ABC for a title may have actually increased, but closer inspection
shows whether the growth has come from bulk copies, overseas copies or
fully paid sales. If the increase is solely down to bulk or overseas
copies, they are likely to have considerably less value placed on them
than paid-for copies.
ABCs are the most contemporary currency we have for publication
Actual sales are a vital indicator of performance in the
Needless to say, a successful title is in a stronger position to suggest
a rate increase than one whose sales are going through the floor.
But ABCs, despite their quantitative strengths, fail to provide a real
take on the quality angle of why a certain title should appear on a
schedule, and lead us to explore how we would build upon this base
knowledge. So for now, let’s say ’never mind the quantity, let’s feel
Readership figures obviously play an important part in negotiations,
despite the fact they don’t offer any information on when the copy is
read. The third or fourth reader of a monthly title may look at it three
or four months after the on-shelf date.
The main readership survey used in the media planning process is the
National Readership Surveys that replaced JICNARS in 1992. The research
is funded by the NPA, the PPA, ISBA and the IPA, and conducted by RSL.
Using a continuous sample of personal interviews, respondents are shown
the masthead of each publication and asked when they last read or looked
Total average issue readership figures are calculated from the sample
If you compare the top ten ABC titles for the period July to December
1998 with the corresponding period for NRS, some interesting patterns
emerge (chart, top left). Some titles have considerably more readers per
copy. This is probably a reflection of their value within the household,
and gives an indication of the breadth of their readership.
So, for example, if you compare Sky TV Guide with Radio Times, you see
on average that Radio Times has a higher readers per copy ratio (1.6 to
2.8 respectively). This will be partly due to the fact that Sky TV Guide
is sent out free to Sky subscribers, and hence will have less perceived
usefulness or value than Radio Times, which is bought from the newsstand
or by subscription.
If you look at lifestyle titles you see even higher readers per copy
ratios. This may happen for various reasons. For Take a Break, it could
be because readers are more likely to pick up a copy in a shared
For FHM, you could hazard a guess that colleges and shared accommodation
allow for a large part of the recycling that takes place.
Back in 1997, the PPA conducted its additional research to look beyond
the NRS readership definition, dubbed the Quality of Readership Survey.
It aimed to help our understanding of how people read specific titles
and build relationships with them. Looking at what some would claim were
’immeasurables’, the research caused some controversy. But, that aside,
there were many useful facets to the survey.
One new form of measurement was Page Exposure or PEX. PEX looks at the
number of repeat exposures a reader may have to a particular magazine.
Many studies have demonstrated that repeat exposure to magazine ads are
more valuable than single impacts. In fact, the Politz Study in the US
highlighted that although single exposures do work, two exposures to any
one ad works approximately twice as well.
PEX scores are calculated by looking at the proportion of pages read or
looked at on an average day and multiplying this by the number of days
on which a title is read while still current.
If you look at the highest PEX scores for the women’s monthly market
(chart, middle left), you see a mixture of coffee table titles as well
as early figures for the successful launch of B magazine.
If you then look at the top readership figures for women’s monthly
magazines at that time on NRS, none of the top ten readership scores
coincide with the top rating PEX score titles (chart, middle left). This
emphasises the significance of looking at PEX scores alongside NRS data.
Beyond PEX scores, another interesting area for advertisers to look at
is the number of pick-ups. Different types of magazines are used for
One reason why several of our clients have used TV listings magazines
was based on the theory that by creative use of the titles, you get a
relatively continuous dialogue with readers, who refer to them
Source of copy is another factor that’s worth thinking about when
planning magazine schedules. Evidently, some sections of magazines are
more prone to being passed on to others, and extra passed-on readership
is a bonus to advertisers.
But what you really pay for is the special relationship between the
primary reader who actually buys or subscribes to the title. If you are
looking at the women’s weekly market, this is an especially important
consideration (chart, bottom left).
There is also a range of attitudinal issues when placing ads in
Are you trying to piggyback on the credibility the magazine has with the
reader? Are you trying to talk to readers when they are in a specific
It’s worth looking at research into whether readers believe what they
see and whether they usually read when relaxing, when comparing customer
magazines with consumer ones.
One final aspect worth considering is clutter or stand-out. Nowadays,
with the average advertising-to-editorial ratio standing at 30:70, the
hardest part of planning media within magazines can be to guarantee
stand-out above the clutter.
Take, for example, the top-selling women’s and men’s monthly titles,
Cosmopolitan and FHM. Here, the ’ad/ed’ ratio is more like 40:60.
Cosmopolitan (March 1999) carried 117 ads out of a total of 240 pages
while, similarly, FHM carried 114 ads out of 250 pages.
So how do you stand out among all that? If these titles really are
crucial to your media schedule, then one way is to be very creative with
your execution, another may be to explore sponsorship or advertorial
routes so you are inextricably linked with the magazine product.
In this month’s FHM, you have an almost pull-out poster-style ad for
Calvin Klein jeans, and a mini tip-on catalogue for Kickers shoes. In
Cosmopolitan, you have stick-on sachets for Cadbury’s chocolate
Another route is to look at the actual time spent reading a title, or at
claims that a magazine is read from cover to cover. Clearly, if you can
get a feel for the number of pages actually read, you can start to be
more confident that your ad has a chance of being seen and taken in.
Jon Wilkins is the creative communications director of New PHD.
Additional contributions by New PHD’s media director, Laura James, and
its research assistant, Natasha Ross
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ABCS AND READERSHIP
Publication ABC NRS Number of
(July-Dec 1998) (July-Dec 1998) readers
Sky TV Guide 3,403,912 5,498,000 1.6
Cable Guide 1,860,622 3,319,000 1.8
What’s on TV 1,765,369 4,190,000 2.4
Radio Times 1,400,331 3,948,000 2.8
Reader’s Digest 1,302,659 4,063,000 3.1
Take a Break 1,273,870 4,584,000 3.6
TV Times 820,282 3,320,000 4.0
FHM 751,493 3,489,000 4.7
TV Quick 740,800 2,087,000 2.8
Woman 711,133 2,240,000 3.2
TOP PEX AND NRS SCORES FOR WOMEN’S MONTHLIES
Publication PEX score Publication NRS
(Jan - Dec 1997)
Pregnancy & Birth 5.6 Sainsbury’s magazine 2,151,000
Period Living 4.7 A Taste of Safeway 2,025,000
B 4.4 Good Housekeeping 1,741,000
Country Living 4.3 Cosmopolitan 1,707,000
Perfect Home 4.2 Somerfield magazine 1,579,000
House Beautiful 4.1 Prima 1,470,000
Hair Flair 4.1 Marie Claire 1,400,000
Practical Parenting 4.0 Woman & Home 1,294,000
BBC Veg Good Food 3.9 Vogue 1,290,000
Slimming 3.9 Ideal Home 1,266,000
Base: all women Base: all women
PRIMARY READERSHIP OF WOMEN’S WEEKLIES
Publication ABC NRS Primary NRS/
(July-Dec 1998) (July-Dec 1998) Primary (%)
Take a Break 1,273,870 3,615,000 2,729,000 75
Woman 711,133 2,050,000 1,302,000 64
Woman’s Own 654,473 2,452,000 1,470,000 60
Bella 610,843 2,178,000 1,366,000 63
Woman’s Weekly 594,680 1,700,000 916,000 54
That’s Life 540,003 1,016,000 696,000 69
Hello! 510,552 1,734,000 638,000 37
Best 501,205 1,583,000 970,000 61
Chat 497,731 1,650,000 992,000 60
People’s Friend 438,980 9,820,000 554,000 56
OK! 400,701 704,000 109,000 15
My Weekly 358,381 1,059,000 648,000 61
Now 350,999 395,000 189,000 48
Woman’s Realm 197,313 764,000 318,000 42
The Lady 45,413 161,000 133,000 83
FHM - QUANTITATIVE AND QUALITATIVE PARAMETERS
Number of people who buy it themselves 1.5m
Number of people who buy it regularly 1m
Number of pick-ups 6.5
Proportion of pages read 84%
Pages read cover to cover 47%
Minutes spent reading 69
Ad/ed ratio 40:60
114 ads/250 pages
51 fashion ads