Primary Magazine Readers in Latin America

A single copy of a magazine may be read by many readers. It is sometimes argued that not all of these readers are equal, at least in terms of advertising value. There are a number of ways to make qualitative distinctions among magazine readers. For example, one classification scheme identifies the core (or loyal) reader as someone who reads more than half the number of issues (e.g. three or four issues read out of every four published issues).

In this note, we will focus on the primary reader, which is defined as someone who obtained the copies through any one of the following methods:

  1. Subscription at home

  2. Subscription at work

  3. Purchased single-copy at newsstand (or kiosk, bookstore, supermarket, etc)

  4. Obtained copy through newsstand subscription arrangement.

The last item merits some discussion, as it may be rare elsewhere in the world. In some Latin American countries, the postal system may be unreliable and the mail subscription may frequently arrive late, if at all. An alternate arrangement is to have the newsstand operator hold a copy aside for pickup on a regular basis.

It is important to note that the 'primary reader' definition not only covers the person in whose name the subscription was made or the person who paid for the newsstand subscription, but it also includes the other family/household members and co-workers who read the copy of the magazine.

Anyone who is not a primary reader is called a passalong reader, which may cover many different situations (e.g. someone who picked up a copy at a hotel, an airport, an airplane, or even a taxi; someone who read a copy in the waiting room of a doctor or dentist; someone who read a copy in a libary; someone who was given an old copy by a friend or relative; etc). In the valuation scheme, the primary reader is accorded greater value because this is a person who has demonstrated an interest in the magazine. In the case of the subscriber, the person has committed a sum of money up front to insure that the magazine will be received on a regular basis. In the case of the newsstand copy purchaser, the person was willing to pay for a copy of this magazine out of the wide selection of other magazines available. There is a greater degree of involvement with the magazine, which may transfer to advertising therein.

In the Los Medios y Mercados de Latinoamérica study, we measured over twenty regional Latin American magazines, ranging across many fields (newsweekly, general interest, fashion and beauty, men's, home, personal computers and teens). The average percent of primary readers was found to be 59%. In the following table, we show the frequency distribution.

The magazines with the highest percents of primary readers neatly fall into two categories: personal computers (Byte, PC Magazine and PC World) and teens (Tu Internacional). These magazines are characterized by being specialized and targeted. One would not read a technical magazine unless one has some knowledge or interest in the subject. One would not read a teen magazine unless one has some interest in teen habits and tastes. Thus, these magazines cannot be just passed along to any other person.

The magazine with the lowest percent of primary readers is Playboy, which is widely read but not often purchased firsthand.

We have set up a situation with two conflicting goals. On one hand, we suggested that it may be desirable to have a high percent of primary readers who are involved with and committed to the magazine, as opposed to passalong readers who may be less involved. On the other hand, it is obviously desirable to have as many people read the magazine. For a given circulation, it may be impossible to increase both the total number of readers and the percentage of primary readers at the same time. So it becomes a tricky trade-off decision as to which should be pursued and highlighted.

(by Roland Soong, 8/22/98)

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