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RFID May Help Get a Read on Magazine Browsing Habits

A media research firm plans to trial RFID readers built into magazine covers to monitor how much time people spend browsing publications in waiting rooms. The trials are expected to start this quarter and could eventually be expanded to monitor specific ads, articles, or pages.
Jan 02, 2008This article was originally published by RFID Update.

January 2, 2008—Readership research company Mediamark Research & Intelligence (MRI) has developed an RFID system to automatically record how much time people spend reading or browsing magazines. Magazines are placed in plastic covers that include an integrated RFID reader. The readers automatically detect and record each time the magazine is opened or closed by reading a tag on the cover. Individual pages can also be tagged to record when they are viewed.

"A few years ago, TV was the only medium whose usage was monitored electronically. Now, print is the only medium that is not measured electronically," Jay Mattlin, senior vice president of new ventures at MRI, told RFID Update.

MRI is the leading US provider of audience data for magazines and multimedia. The Manhattan-based company interviews approximately 26,000 adults in the US each year about their reading habits, then packages and sells the collected data to publishers, advertisers, and other interested parties.

The company developed the RFID system as a potential way to monitor magazine use in waiting rooms. To date, the system has only been tested in its laboratories. MRI has partnered with Waiting Room Subscription Services (WRSS), which provides publications to beauty salons, doctor's offices, and other businesses, to conduct waiting room trials. The partners hope to begin the trials this quarter, initially monitoring 15 to 40 magazines at each of two locations, then expanding to more waiting rooms, according to Mattlin.

MRI does not currently measure waiting room readership as part of its research. "This is a departure for us," Anne Marie Kelly, vice president of marketing and strategic planning, told RFID Update.

"If we're successful, the technology could be used to measure gross levels of exposure for ad campaigns, and for other uses. But at current prices, all other things are out of reach," said Mattlin.

It costs about $21 to equip a magazine with a reader cover and a cover tag. MRI will initially only test cover openings and closings, and will not monitor individual pages. It took about two years to develop readers that provided the functionality and reliability MRI needed, according to Mattlin. During that time MRI worked with RFID design and integration firm TagSense to create and test the technology.

The readers are in the form of a card. They are battery powered and have on-board memory to store read data. Batteries last about three weeks when used for opening/closing monitoring, less if individual pages are monitored. As of now there is no remote reporting capability, so cards must be retrieved to recover the data stored inside.

"Down the road, we hope to test readership of individual pages -- we've done it successfully in our lab -- but we'll focus on the simpler test at first," said Mattlin.

Unlike interview research, the RFID system provides no demographic information because individual readers are not identified. That is a key point that could allay privacy concerns, which Mattlin said MRI is sensitive to and will address in its trials.

Mediamark views the system as a supplement, not a replacement, to its core interview-based research.

"In the future, word-based media may be monitored by more than one source. Look at television. There are set-top boxes that monitor what is being watched on TV, but they don't tell you who is watching. Arbitron still uses other methods to get its demographic information," said Mattlin.

"We have no illusions that what we're doing here will replace asking people directly what they're reading anytime soon," he said. "What RFID could do is enable us to get more data about reading patterns, including data that we wouldn't get by asking."

See Mediamark's announcement
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