Publishers make digital strides, but cross-platform monetization lags
Magazine brands are making important strides in various pockets of digital publishing – an engaging tablet edition, a compelling website, an extensive Facebook fan base – but most have yet to tie all the pieces together for their advertisers.
That’s one main take-away from L2 Thinktank’s latest Digital IQ Index study of consumer magazines. Only 15% of the 80 brands L2 studied are coordinating their monetization efforts across different platforms. Instead, most are focusing their digital revenue models specifically on their website and their tablet editions.
Neither focus is surprising, since there’s an established model for monetizing websites, and tablet editions present an easy way to replicate print ad sales. But other channels remain elusive from a monetization standpoint, both individually and collectively.
Only 48% of the magazines studied are actively monetizing email, and 46% are monetizing mobile apps. Just 38% of the brands in the IQ Index currently reference an advertiser within a custom Facebook tab, and 35% are experimenting with sponsored tweets.
“The majority of the publishers have done a very good job building communities on social media networks like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and many have also established early presences on emerging sites like Pinterest and Tumblr,” Colin Gilbert, the lead researcher for the L2 study, said in a phone interview. “But the big question is how to monetize them. That’s a real point of contention.”
Fighting fires on one dimension
An even bigger question is how to sell integrated programs that span web, mobile and social channels.
“Throughout the brands we studied, there’s a tendency to fight fires on one dimension,” said Gilbert. “A brand might invest considerable resources to fix one part without looking at where a smaller investment delivers a better return.”
One example: tablet editions. “Tablets obviously are critical, but we believe [those investments] came at the expense of other important mobile investments such as responsive design, or turning social into a paying channel,” he said. “And it’s definitely had an impact in terms of integrated digital marketing.”
Gilbert notes that of the 65 brands in the study that have released iPad editions, 80% feature ads with embedded links, but only 17% present interactive ads that differ from the static print versions. This suggests one of two things: that advertisers don’t believe the tablet audience is substantial enough yet to justify new creative, or they’re looking for a wider set of integrated campaigns that go beyond the tablet, Gilbert said.
Missing cross-platform metrics
The lack of cross-channel metrics are another significant barrier. Last week, the backers of the Making Measurement Make Sense initiative provided an update of their year-old effort to create cross-platform measurement standards that span digital and legacy media. The group has been testing a viewable impression standard – the first of its five guiding principles for cross-platform measurement – and plans to begin sharing the results of the pilot as early as this month.
The tests have encompassed 20 different campaigns from about a dozen agencies, with close to 4 billion impressions served through a half-dozen platform providers, according to David Gunzerath, SVP and associate director with the Media Rating Council, which is overseeing the tests.
“We expect to have a lot of learning coming out of it and will start disseminating anonymized results in the August/September timeframe,” Gunzerath said during a webinar last week.
The group currently defines a viewable impression as an instance in which at least 50% of an ad is viewed for at least one second, but part of the testing process is to confirm the definition, or refine it as needed.
“As we go forward, we’ll learn how that definition impacts certain types of ad units,” including video and banner display ads, said Sherrill Mane, SVP of research, analytics and measurement with the Interactive Advertising Bureau. “The MRC will do the analysis on that.”
The goal is that publishers, marketers and agencies will begin running parallel reporting of served and viewable impressions by the first quarter of 2013, with a gradual transition to the viewable standard as more companies support it.
In parallel to these pilots, the 3Ms group is also working an online gross rating point (GRP) metric that will provide reach and frequency reporting of viewable impressions, as well as a standard classification and taxonomy for banner, rich media and streaming media ads.
“As we develop and put forth GRPs with demographics, digital media will be better able to be part of cross-media brand allocations, not apart from them,” Mane said.
As the industry moves toward these types of standards, publishers will need to take a more holistic approach in developing cross-platform programs for advertisers.
“Digital is forcing magazines to become entrepreneurial, to seek out innovation and inspiration in unexpected places, and engage in failure on a regular basis,” said Gilbert. “That’s very hard for a lot of brands, which are hesitant to let go of an established model that traces back to print.”
Here’s a summary of the L2 research: