THERE ARE NUMBERS AND THERE ARE NUMBERS: At MPA, The Association of Magazine Media’s offices in New York, Mary Berner, president, talked quickly as she clicked through a PowerPoint presentation detailing the problems with the current metric of measuring the health of the magazine industry. Her view — and the opinion of many magazine publishers with slumping ad pages — is that the measurements used today are pegged to print-only metrics, such as circulation, advertising pages and single-copy sales. They don’t take into account the online piece of a magazine’s reach.

Instead of providing monthly ad-page numbers and circulation figures, as MPA has done for years in its media industry newsletter, it will now disregard such metrics and look solely at consumer demand through its in-house-developed measurement, dubbed “MPA360.” The yardstick will use data from third-party providers GfK MRI, Ipsos, comScore, Nielsen Online and SocialFlow to assess demand across print, video, Web and social media. The MPA is dropping the idea of measuring print by ad sales and circulation but will use MRI data, which are similar to Nielsen data for TV and digital-edition downloads via tablet. Everything else will be measured by unique visits. Not surprisingly, given publishers’ circulation struggles, 95 percent of the magazine industry, or 147 titles, have signed on to report data to the MPA this way.

This story first appeared in the September 29, 2014 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“This is the first time ever that any industry, including magazine media, will be able to capture consumer demand across all its platforms,” Berner said, putting the emphasis on “first.”

To get a sense of how the data will look, MPA sent out August year-over-year data, which was broken down by category. For the month, print and digital editions increased 2.1 percent, reflecting an audience of 1.01 billion. Web, which encompasses desktop and laptop, fell 4.6 percent, with an audience of 205.3 million, while mobile Web rose to 234 million, or an increase of 97.9 percent. Video expanded 53.1 percent, to 22 million. Added together, all the categories translated to a 10 percent increase, or an audience of 1.48 billion.

As to what the numbers mean, only time will tell.

“You’ll get used to them,” assured Berner, who argued that measuring consumer demand is vital as it gives advertisers a sense of the importance of a brand.

When reminded that advertising budgets are still skewed heavily in favor of print — at least in the fashion world — and that, in omitting those numbers, it becomes more difficult to get a sense of the health of a fashion or lifestyle magazine, Berner hesitated. “Yes, print is still the lion’s share, but it’s shifting,” she said. “It’s not that advertising isn’t important. It’s that the measure we have doesn’t give the whole picture.”

The all-or-nothing mentality means MPA won’t post ad data from the Publishers Information Bureau on its Web site. Media reporters will have to pay for that data or hope that publicists from magazine brands will provide their numbers.

But given the volatile state of the industry, would a magazine broadcast its slumping ad numbers? One public-relations person from a large, well-known publisher — who naturally requested anonymity — said it best: “Probably not.”

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