Applying General Research Techniques to New Magazine Development

Article excerpt

Applying general research techniques to new magazine development

More and more articles in the trade press are focusing on new-magazine failures. Many of these articles stress the detailed research that preceded the launch of these publications. Can research really be at fault?

The easy answer is to cast doubts on the ability of media and market research to study a marketplace properly and provide actionable data for new magazine introductions. But this would not be fair to research or its practitioners. It sounds like the clerk who says "the computer made a mistake,' when in fact your bank statement or credit card bill is incorrect because someone entered the wrong data.

The classic attitude is that research is good when it proves what you already knew. This is not far from right. It is not that good research must provide old data, but that good research can deal with a subject properly only when you know what kind of information you are looking for and the kind of people you want this information from.

Research designed to assist the development of new magazines is not easy to create, but it can be done. Consumer packaged goods techniques can often be very successfully adapted. Certain assumptions must be made, but in this type of research, the important point is to keep an open mind.

Laying the groundwork

The first step is to test the concept. While an editorial idea is paramount to a successful magazine, a large enough segment of the public may not always share the interest of the editor.

The next step is to gauge the success of the prototype (if there is one) in attracting the interest of the target audience. The final step, and it is really two steps, is to determine the total circulation potential and the demographic characteristics of the readers.

How can general research techniques apply to new magazine development? Let's suppose that we really are starting from zero. We have editorial expertise in a given field, but we don't know if the marketplace shares our interest. A good editorial product is a "must,' but the reading public doesn't always share our editor's enthusiasm or point of view. Home builders know that most of us cannot visualize what the finished house will look like--so they prepare a model. Without going to the expense of producing a mockup, how can a magazine idea be tested?

By questioning respondents on related issues, we can often develop a picture of their interests. We know that it is difficult for most individuals to judge their own capabilities accurately. So, in practical psychology, "ideal image' questioning is used to develop the self-image of the respondent.

When testing automotive models and advertising appeals, for example, I used a list of image descriptors. Those being interviewed were asked to select the term that best described their perception of the drivers of different makes and models. What they were really telling was how to appeal to them to sell the automobile. The creative approach was designed with this in mind and also to play off the negatives of the competition. …