Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The MPA's President and CEO, Nina Link, discusses the new voluntary guidelines for tablet magazines

On Monday, the Association of Magazine Media (MPA) announced their new voluntary guidelines for tablet magazines, designed to drive the growth of adverting on the new digital platform. The guidelines and the set of definitions for tablet magazines were the work of the MPA Tablet Metrics Task Force, which included representatives of seven magazine companies РBonnier Corporation, Cond̩ Nast, Forbes, Hearst Magazines, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Meredith Corporation and Time Inc.

The task force came up with five recommended metrics that it hopes will be used by their magazine members, as well as ad agencies and clients:

  1. Total consumer paid digital issues
  2. The total number of tablet readers per issue
  3. The total number of sessions per issue
  4. The total time spent per reader per issue
  5. The average number of sessions per reader per issue
I asked Nina Link, the president and CEO of the MPA, about the origins of the task force.
"As member companies have gotten more and more active with the Newsstand and selling subscriptions," Link told me yesterday, "there was more and more of a need to have advertising support the tablet platform, to bring some clarity and understanding of what the experience is for readers on this wonderful new tablet platform, as well as what language we should be using to describe this experience – because there were so many different words that were being used to describe the same things on both the publisher's and advertiser's side, to bring some consistency in reporting."

"We also saw the growth curve of the adoption of tablets – and of course new entrants, in addition to Apple – that we felt like this was really going to expand and there would be a bigger and bigger universe, so it was a very good time for us to get started in the first phase of this project," Link said.

Link addressed the issue of advertising, or rather the lack of advertising inside tablet editions, last month at the assocation's digital publishing conference in NYC, "MPA Digital: Swipe".

"As I read my digital magazines on the plane, I realized something very important was missing: where were the ads? Study after study has shown that people like the ads in their magazines - in fact they consider the ads as part of the content," Link told attendees. "But on the tablet, there were far fewer ads. Many of the ads I saw were static and unimaginative. They didn't come close to matching the sheer visual magic and innovation of the magazine content."

In December the task force began its work and the initial list of recommendations and guidelines are the first results.

"We certainly did not want to go the way of the web, which is a very different experience, the click mentality, very low CPMs, that's not the way people are experiencing magazines," Link said.

"On the other hand, it is not exactly the same experience as print. There are enhancements," Link said. "There is the ability to have sight, sound and motion. This platform has more similarities to print than not, but it has a lot of other wonderful things that have not been measured before. So we came at this saying OK, how do we feel about this? and what are some of the things we think would be a very good baseline."

In the end, the MPA wants the metrics used to evaluate tablet editions to be more than just about the total number of subscribers or app downloads.

"We also said we want this to be based on audience and we want this to be based on engagement. ABC is doing a distribution metric, we're about engagement and audience."

The MPA Tablet Metrics Task Force also came up with a set of 12 new definitions for such simple things as "tablets" and "tablet issue", as well as recommended way to describe the wide variety of digital magazines found on the iPad.

For instance, the task force uses the term SFP, or straight from print, to describe what here at TNM is called a replica edition. SFP+, then, means a replica with some interactive enhancements. DFT, or designed for tablets, is used for a digital magazine specifically created for the tablet environment. There is also EFT (enhanced for tablet) and SITI (special interest tablet issue).

It will be an open question whether the industry adopts these definitions, or whether they will continue to be refined. But the work of the task force will, it seems, continue on.

"We actually thought this was going to be like a Phase One and then we'd stop and then revisit it at some point, but it became something that would be ongoing," Link said yesterday.

"There are a number of things we will be looking at next step," Links said, looking forward.

"First of all, we want to get out there and get people to experience this, get feedback – and we may have to edit and make some changes to what we've put out."

"We're also going to start to look at advertising engagement metrics. We are putting together some educational pieces that we will be using both within the industry, as well as with agencies and clients. We're also looking to creative best practices – particularly for the ad community – to help them create better advertising experiences on these platforms," Link said.

"There is a lot to come, and so it is something we will be working on. I don't even know where the end is."