Blurred logic

Blurred logic: In Thursday’s Christian Science Monitor, Clayton Collins re-hashes a worn-out clichŽ reports on “what some observers of the industry call a troubling trend: the peppering of magazine articles with product brand names.”

Collins blatantly ignores over 250 years of American magazine history by implying that something dating back to Benjamin Franklin is somehow new. But I will forgive him that oversight. What I don’t excuse him for is the implication in this piece that readers are idiots. Or, for that matter, that consumer products appearing in a consumer magazine is blurring some kind of line. Clayton, pick up a copy of Cargo if you want to see product placement on steroids (not to be confused with the placement of products of steroids). Pick up a copy of Southern Living and read about their idea homes if you want to see product placement as an art form. Using an article from Ski magazine that praises an SUV is not exactly investigative journalism. (Oh, did I mention that for authoritative insight, Collins quotes an analyst from the group that issued a study revealing how conservative NPR is? A group with the word “accuracy” in its name?)

Obviously, I’m also vexed by Collins lumping custom publishing in with the “product placement” non-story. Customer magazines are clearly labeled (i.e., “Christian Science”) with the sponsor and publisher of the magazine. There are no “hidden agendas,” that is, unless, the editor pretends that it is not a customer magazine.

(Please, let me stress that, as an observer of the publishing industry, I am not at all troubled with religious denominations peppering the brands of newspapers they own with denominational brand names. And I believe them when the Christian Science Monitor claims over and over that the newspaper is independent of the church that owns it. I don’t think that the half-dozen links to information about the church that can be found on their “about us” page blurs the line between advertising and articles. Granted, it may haze it, but it does not blur it.)

Does price matter?

Does price matter? According to a story by MediaPost’s Michael Shields, Conde Nast and Time have jointly commissioned research that shows, “what consumers pay for magazines and how they come to subscribe to such magazines have no correlation to their level of involvement with such titles.”

(Disclosure: This weblog thinks all research like this is suspect and believes all coverage of such research is written by journalists who did everything possible to avoid statistics courses in college. However, whenever it agrees with the outcome, this weblog is happy to discard such bias.)

As Time and Conde Nast are presenting the research to “prominent print buyers,” I assume they are trying to overcome any objections to the notion that their magazine titles have large circulations because most subscriptions are purchased at discount rates via High School Band fund raising projects or because someone thinks they can win the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes if they pay $10 for a year’s subscription.

However, I am sure that Time and Conde Nast did not consider the unintended consequence that certain custom publishing companies would use this research to underscore the fact that magazines are valued by readers for reasons having nothing to do with the publication’s source or price, but rather have to do with the magazine’s quality, reader experience and fulfillment of need.

Quote:

“The perception has been that if you pay more, therefore you want the magazine more,” said another prominent planner who spoke off the record. “It’s almost like saying if you pay a higher price for a book that it will be read more closely.”

It stands to reason that publishers that employ such tactics might have incentive to downplay the average price and subscription source measurements. “Publishers want to get rid of it,” said one planner of average price paid.

Another unintended consequence of this research will be what folks like Rafat Ali of PaidContent.org (who is, in my humble opinion, the go-to guru on the value of online content) might have say about it. Specifically, if print publishers like Time and Conde Nast are promoting research showing the value of “content” is not related to the price one pays to subscribe to it, then what does that say about Time & Conde Nast’s argument for why they put online content behind a cost-wall? These publishers appear to be laying the philosophical foundation for an argument that a print business model should be based primarily on advertising revenue generated by the quantity and quality of eyeballs while their online business models appear headed in an opposite direction.