It does not take a publishing expert to tick off a list of changes magazines have undergone converting from paper to pixels. But with as many digital publishing truisms those of us in the business already take for granted, I've barely heard a word uttered about the root concept of "readership."
Who cares about readership anyway? Is the concept of a publication having a reliable group of readers relevant in a world of uniques, social networkers and tweeters? Most planning is about turning website visitors into leads to generate and data to track. The idea of readers has been so dumbed-down that most websites call them users. Boy, do I hate that term except when applied to eBay or Travelocity. For a publication, it's disrespectful and discourages empathy with the audience.
By the Numbers
I've never been on a magazine staff where we kept our fingers crossed that each reader would look at seven pages. We didn't delude ourselves that they hung on every word, but feedback told us they looked through each book in varying degrees even if to see the ads or the pictures.
Online, two or three page views per site visit is the average. When publishers can show their average is seven to nine pages, it merits a bullet point in the media kit. Does that mean if you look at three pages of my online publication occasionally you qualify as one of my "readers"?
Subscriptions have always been one measurement of print readership. With controlled circ the norm in B2B publishing, there is arguably less of a readership commitment, but the front and back covers alone give you two "page views." Even if they don't open the magazine, you have technically done as much communicating as the average website.
Say what you want about lack of "accountability" and "metrics," nobody will ever convince me the vast majority of magazine subscribers, controlled or otherwise, do not view many more pages than the average online visitor. True, I cannot tell you which pages, but seven to nine is not a tough benchmark to beat.
Adding insult to injury to the deteriorating concept of readership, web marketers are increasingly more interested in reaching certain readers who happen to be visiting your website―but not because they are visiting. Though more universally true in the B2C marketplace, advertisers now follow prospects identified by keywords they've entered into search engines or forms they filled out somewhere.
One way for advertisers to overcome the lack of readership affinity to any particular website is by planning a campaign across multiple websites. Most B2B publishers have not yet opted into the pervasive data exchanges that enable such across-the-board ad planning. Ironically, this less-cookied, more insular approach might be a retaining wall helping maintain whatever semblance of readership is left online.
What's Love Got to Do With It?
For any publishing executive reading this who never experienced the commitment and passion a readership invests in a good magazine, I'm sorry.
Have you ever loved a magazine? I have―more than a few. Readerships can love business and trade magazines, too. Smart advertisers can capture some of that and make it rub off on the advertised product.
Can readers love online publications? Do they? How important might answering that question be? Thinking about what "readerships" are may be a good first step.