Cair Lerion Blog #13: From readership to audience in trade media

Text by Jonathan RowlandPhoto by Luis Quintero from Pexels

Following up my short(ish) guide to readership and circulation in printed trade media, we’re going broaden our horizons and look at audience… what it is and how it is useful in assessing the value of a trade media brand when looking to place content, be that paid-for (advertising) or non-paid forms of coverage (also known as earned media).

If you’ve not read that first piece on readership and circulation, I recommend heading there now before going on. If you have read it (or have just gone back and read it, in which case, welcome back), let’s go on and look at: 

  • What is audience?
  • Concrete Today: a practical (if fictional) example of audience
  • Why is audience important – for advertisers?
  • Why is audience important – for earned media?
  • Conclusion: Looking for a trade media brand’s audience

What is audience?

According to one dictionary definition, an audience is the “number of people or a particular group of people who watch, read, or listen to the same thing”. While not an exact fit for what we are looking at here, it does give us the structure for our definition in that it describes audience in terms of a ‘who’ (the number of people of particular group of people) that are somehow engaged (watch, read or listen) by a ‘what’ (the same thing).

When thinking about the audience, then, we need to think of the who, the how and the what.

Before I jump into that definition, however, it’s worth noting that we’ve now moved from thinking in terms of a printed trade magazine or journal to thinking in terms of trade media brands.

A brand may incorporate a magazine. In many cases, the magazine may be the foundational element. But it is so much more, including any media channel (or platform) through which that trade media brand connects with people, be that websites, social media, events (online or physical), newsletters, etc.

Concrete Today: a practical (if fictional) example of audience

For example, let’s take the (fictional) example of Concrete Today. Started as printed monthly trade magazine in the 1980s, Concrete Today is now a multi-channel media brand that includes: 

  • A website running daily news and features;
  • Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts;
  • Weekly newsletters highlighting the most important news of that week;
  • A monthly newsletter promoting the release of the latest issue; and
  • An annual Concrete Today conference and exhibition.

In addition, Concrete Today exhibits at a number of other third-party conferences and exhibitions around the world.

The audience of Concrete Today is therefore much larger than simply the number of people that read the magazine every month. It incorporates social media followers, subscribers to the weekly and monthly newsletters, attendees at the annual Concrete Today conference, and visitors to the Concrete Today exhibition stand at the various other events that it attends.

Audience is therefore the total group of people engaged by a trade media brand via at least one channel.

Why is audience important – for advertisers?

When it comes to assessing trade media (especially in more traditional heavy industrial sectors), it is easy to focus on who reads the magazines. Publishers often guide that: it is the readership of the magazine that is traditionally the headline figure in media kits, for example. Although this is changing, as trade magazines drop their printed formats and new online-only media brands become more common, there is still a danger of remaining overly magazine-centric when approaching trade media.

This is perhaps most obviously seen in the rates charged for print advertising when compared to online paid-for content. In my experience, there is the assumption that print advertising should cost more than its online equivalent. And while there is no doubt that print advertising has to cover a higher cost base (covering printing and distribution of the magazine), it seems to me that this doesn’t necessarily take into account the value on offer.

And this is where the ability to assess a trade media brand’s audience comes into play.

An online-only brand with a large and engaged audience may well be able to offer more value in terms of access to current and potential customers than a printed magazine with a poorly engaged readership.

Publishers, however, have a vested interested in tying the prices charged for their paid-for media opportunities to their cost base. That is to argue that printed adverts should be more expensive because printed magazines are more expensive to produce. Not to put too finer point on it but this is nonsense.

Value must be defined as what is best for customer and should be priced accordingly. Being able to accurately assess a trade media brand’s audience is therefore an important tool in assessing the value a trade media brands offers.

Paying for media coverage – whether advertising or in some other form – is not a charitable donation to help a publisher cover their costs; it is a business decision that should be driven by the ability of that publisher to bring your company to the attention of current and potential customer. That is value. And that is worth paying for. Wherever it is offered.

Why is audience important – for earned media?

Similar principles apply when assessing what trade media brands to target when thinking about earned media as when deciding where to spend your advertising dollars.

It is easy to go for the easy win when it comes to earned media. To try and ensure your company receives coverage from every trade media brand in every sector in which you do business. But this scattergun approach – while feeling productive – may not be so.

Let’s say you have just completed an innovative and original project with one of your customers. Not only that, but your customer has agreed that you are able to talk about this project to the trade media and has even offered to help co-author a technical article about the project for publication.

This is the dream. It does not happen often. You need to make the most of it – which means ensuring it gets out to the highest-quality audience. Wherever that audience is to be found.

Conclusion: Looking for a trade media brand’s audience

How then do you find the audience of a trade media brand? As with circulation and readership, this is information that the publisher should be willing and able to provide. At best, it can all be demonstrated by an independent audit of brand audience as presented in a brand report from organisations, such as BPA Worldwide and the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC)

See example brand reports from BPA Worldwide or ABC.

Otherwise – and when publishers either do not undertake an audit or only audit their printed magazine(s) – it can be a more complicated and time-consuming process. The publisher should still be able to provide the information. After all, they should know how many followers they have on their social media, how many subscribers they send their newsletter to and how many visitors to their website they receive. They should also be willing to share that information – and explain how they provide access to that audience.

If they cannot, it is worth asking how important their audience is to a publisher.

Because unlike the circulation of a printed magazine – which generally flows in one direction, from publisher to reader – modern audiences and the relationship they have with content is much more fluid and complex. An audience requires tending and cultivating or it will switch off, unfollow or unsubscribe.

The information age is changing what it means to be an audience. Audiences are no longer passive receivers of media texts. […] Audiences are learning how to be the media, how to network. This means that their activities as audiences are becoming increasingly diverse, and moving beyond the entertainment arena. […] Being an audience is now a much more active and interactive experience that in the broadcasting era. … The information age has brought about fundamental changes in the ways people approach the media and in their engagements with media texts.

David Giles, Media Psychology

I am not 100% convinced that the changing and expanding definitions of what an audience is have been fully realised within the trade media world – almost certainly so in the traditional world of heavy industries in which I have spent most of my career.

Yet there are advantages for both publisher and marketer in accurately measuring and describing a trade media brand’s audience. Perhaps if more marketers asked for and valued this information, more publishers will be willing to put in the time and cost required to provide it. In changing and challenging times for traditional media platforms, working to understand the true scope of a trade media brand’s reach is surely a worthwhile endeavour.

References

Giles, D., Media Psychology (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates; 2003), p. 185. Quoted in: D’Antonio, E., “audience”, The Chicago School of Media Theory.