With the ad market in free-fall, publishers often judge their success against broad market measures. While there is value and some comfort in examining relative performance, relying on it too much may mask the need for change.
Association publishers face this problem more acutely than their for-profit peers. Industry data on association publishers is collected only sporadically, and the methodology typically evolves with each study. That makes it harder to evaluate trends over time and across publications.
Trade associations like the Magazine Publishers of America and Association of Business Media produce and update statistical analyses of their member publications, but the data is made available only to members whose publications are included. While few associations are members of either MPA or ABM, those who are can certainly participate and then use these data sets to evaluate how they are doing.
The Society of National Association Publications (SNAP), in concert with the Angerosa Research Foundation and Stratton Publishing, offers an association-specific set of financial and operational benchmarks. The study is available for purchase, and you don’t have to be a member of SNAP to buy a copy. The study has been conducted twice, with the most recent update of print benchmarks published in 2007.
In working with associations on publication audits and benchmarking studies, we rely on these kinds of data sets for part of the analysis. We also look at the association publication’s “near-in” competitive set – publications that immediately come to mind as comparable – as well as other media properties that might seem further afield but offer new or different insights.
The “near-in” competitive set can be assessed using public or relatively inexpensive private (purchased) data. A rate card or media kit can reveal how much lead time the publication requires, the regional or demographic editions it offers, the discount structure provided to frequent advertisers, and often the editorial calendar for the coming year.
A circulation statement from ABC or BPA is often included in a media kit. These statements can provide useful information about trends in paid and total circulation as well as average prices for subscriptions and newsstand sales.
We also encourage association publishers to look at best practices outside of their competitive set. As an example: for-profit monthly publications have begun to move ad close deadlines closer to their on-sale date; over time, this trend could affect all print titles. Preparing now for a faster future can boost competitiveness now and help an association avoid making last-minute changes down the road.