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RFID Gives Focus Magazine a Sharper View of Readership

To better understand the reading habits and interests of its subscribers, the German newsweekly is supplying participants with a tagged version of the publication, as well as an RFID-enabled magazine holder.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Feb 15, 2008Focus, a German magazine covering general news, politics and economics, is very similar to the U.S. newsweeklies Newsweek and Time, according to Anna Maria Deisenberg, the publication's marketing, communication and research director. In terms of onboard intelligence, however, some issues of Focus had its U.S. counterparts beat during a technology trial last year.

Six households among the publications' subscribers participated in a test in which RFID technology was used to ascertain which pages of advertisements and editorial content were viewed by a total of 14 individuals in those households. Deisenberg says Focus performed the test because the technology has the potential to provide greater insight into the reading habits and interests of its subscribers. Such information is golden to its editorial department, the company says, as well as to its advertisers.

To read the magazine, test participants used a magazine holder with a built-in RFID interrogator.
Focus began working on its reader membership technology four years ago, Deisenberg says, and has spent more than €100,000 ($147,000) on the project. With promising results from the 2007 test, the magazine is currently gearing up to launch another, larger test of the technology that will involve up to 200 readers. But first, the magazine is working with its RFID partners, RF-it Solutions and Magellan Technologies, to remedy some glitches in the system.

During the initial trial, each of the six participating households received their issues in the mail, as usual. But these issues were different than those available to other subscribers or sold on newsstands: The left page of each two-page spread carried a passive 13.56 MHz RFID tag manufactured by Magellan. (A magazine with 50 total pages of ads and editorial, therefore, would have with a total of 25 tags.) The participants were asked to place each RFID-tagged issue into a custom-made magazine holder containing an RFID interrogator before reading it.

The rigid plastic holder was slightly larger than the magazine, in terms of height and width, and roughly 5 millimeters (2 inches) thick. When a tester was ready to read the magazine, that person turned on the RFID interrogator and pressed one of the five buttons built into the holder. Each member of the test household was assigned a specific button and was instructed to read the magazine as he or she normally would.

When the unopened magazine was placed inside the holder, the built-in RFID interrogator was able to detect all tags. Once the magazine's cover was opened, however, the interrogator detected all tags except for the one on the cover page, because as the cover was lifted up and to the left, the tag was moved out of range. As the next page was opened, the interrogator could see all tags but the ones attached to the cover and first inside page, and so forth, until the participant arrived at the last page of the magazine, and the interrogator had zero RFID tags within its range.

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