BPA Worldwide, a leader in providing third-party circulation audits, has announced that it’s freezing membership dues and audit rates at their July 2008 levels — good through June 2010.
If you’re in the business, you know that BPA is especially strong among magazines with controlled circulation. If you’re not in the business, you need to know that third-party circulation audits are how publications validate their readership claims to advertisers.
BPA is facing obsolescence at an astonishing rate. If BPA is a dinosaur, then the killer meteor has already hit the Earth and the toxic cloud of extinction is on its way. Holding rates will make as much difference to the organization’s future as putting on a sweater.
Am I being a little harsh here? Perhaps. But set aside the fact that for the previous 20 years of my career BPA was one of the most sluggish, obstinate, arrogant and regressive entities I had to deal with. Set aside the fact that — even though it was owned by its customers — it always, without exception, acted as though its role was to prevent me from innovating in my job. Set aside that I don’t know anyone in publishing (though I’m sure there are a few) who doesn’t take some quiet pleasure at seeing BPA suffer.
What BPA faces aside from all that is the fact that its member magazines must find ways to radically reduce distribution costs. That’s required to offset declines in two key performance indicators: advertising pages sold, and cost-per-thousand (CPM) paid for an average page of advertising.
In other words, advertisers are reaching readers less often, and every reader they reach is worth less to them today than it used to be. The only thing advertisers care about is how many people take a measurable action as a result of seeing an ad.
And what is BPA’s ultimate value to publishers? Proof of readers reached. There is nothing that it does, or wants to do, to measure the responsiveness of those readers.
In my last year running business-to-business magazines, I withdrew two of them from membership in BPA. Not because I was so frustrated with the deplorable service BPA provided; but because my advertisers no longer cared about BPA audits. They told me they wanted to know how my audience would respond to their advertising; if I could provide better response per thousand readers than my competitors, nobody cared to see the expensive and painstakingly designed BPA audit statement. (To be fair, advertisers had been telling me that with increasing urgency for about eight years; it just reached a watershed last year — probably brought on by the recession.)
Since that time, I’ve heard of about two-dozen magazines that have terminated their BPA membership — something that used to be as acceptable in media circles as, say, passing gas in an elevator. Entire divisions of media companies have simply walked away from BPA because the organization’s work has ceased to be of value.
I suppose that freezing rates is a reasonable first response. But I don’t give BPA enough credit to understand how inadequate that step will prove to be as its irrelevance grows like a toxic cloud.