MacUser thrives thanks to the quality of its readers

Written by David Tebbutt, MacUser 02/91 item 01 - scanned

Have you ever wondered about how MacUser arrives in your hands each fortnight? Or do you take it for granted that the UK's Technology Magazine of the Year (Times/Hewlett-Packard Technology Awards) will continue to turn up? Behind the scenes, a lot of things need to happen before you hear that satisfying thud on the doormat or see the newsagents' shelves brightened by your favourite magazine.

The obvious things are that people have to provide the words and pictures and design the magazine. Printers and distributors need to get the results of these efforts to you. But the unsung heroes of our business are the sales team, the people who persuade advertisers to place their business with the magazine in order to ensure its survival. And I can tell you, it's no easy job, especially in the current financial climate.

You won't often hear editorial people admit to the existence of the sales team. Editorial integrity is what makes readers want to read a magazine. They want to feel that the words written are not tainted by commercial considerations. The writers are obliged to reflect the world the way it is, regardless of who happens to be paying good money to place their advertisements in the magazine. Editorial folk have to pretend the sales people don't exist.

The plain fact is that editorial salaries couldn't be paid unless the sales team brought in a certain amount of business. Without advertisements, magazines die, unless they're run by a megalomaniac or by someone prepared to take short-term losses in anticipation of a long-term killing. Sadly, two Mac magazines have gone in the last year or so, as well as a number of other computing titles.

In a boom, advertisers are happy to throw their money around; in a recession they become far more cautious. They pick and choose between competing titles and often force the price way down in the process. Only the good magazines can withstand such pressures. Fortunately MacUser is one of them. After all, it recently won two categories at the highly respected Times/Hewlett-Packard Technology Awards. Nevertheless, you should know a bit more about publishing because you too can play an important part in MacUser's future success.

In a time of recession, one of the first things to come under scrutiny is the marketing budget. This encompasses exhibiting at shows, product mailings, advertising in magazines and sticking posters up all over the place. After all, how can a company measure the precise value of a billboard on the road to Heathrow airport? At least with a mailing, you can count the replies and fairly easily monitor those which lead to actual business.

Coming closer to home, how do you think companies measure the success of their advertisements in the press? Most of them do it by counting the number of responses they get per pound spent. When a recession comes and their advertising budgets are cut, the first thing the marketing people do is tot up the number of leads received for each advertisement placed.

The trouble is that few companies ever bother to check the quality of the responses coming in. This daft approach is reinforced because marketing people are judged according to the number of leads they can generate, regardless of quality. These leads are passed proudly to sales teams in dealerships who then either spend ages following every one up, or throw them in the bin knowing they'll be a waste of time. And don't think I'm kidding - this really happens.

It's pathetic that many advertisers refuse to admit quality might be a better measure of success. I think they're afraid of making life more complicated by instituting new measures such as a 'cost per conversion' or 'cost per qualified lead'. If they did, they would be in for some big surprises.

The trouble is that all this tracking and qualifying would take time and effort and therefore cost money. And, money is something in fairly short supply at the moment. Publishers of the best magazines would love to see a lead qualification system implemented. But the majority are probably happier to leave things as they are. This conspiracy to hide the true effectiveness of advertising is widespread.

This is where you come back into the picture. Given that the only measure of effectiveness is the number of responses, it's your duty to credit your favourite magazine when you make a serious enquiry. This will ensure it remains the advertiser's favourite and that you will continue to get your fix. But don't rush off and fill in every coupon you find in order to impress MacUser's advertisers because, you never know, some of them may , have already seen the light.