These days, publishers have to do much more than just launch a Website to attract national media coverage. Intervid launched the Private Eye Website in 1995, with selected excerpts from the current issue and nothing remotely libellous (luckily for editor Ian Hislop). It was probably the first British national magazine on the Internet, so we benefited from novelty-value during the launch PR.
Newsnight devoted a couple of minutes to the subject, and Private Eye contrived to publish my letter announcing the site to its own readers, which ended with the words “…with clients like you, who needs enemies”.
Since then, with little publicity spend, Private Eye has climbed to approximately 4,500 readers per week, a third of them in the UK, a third in the US and a third from the rest of the world. There have been no competitions or incentives since the launch, and only a small PR push to promote the Private Eye Christmas books, sold directly from the Website.
The initial PR effort was devoted to ensuring that Private Eye was listed in all the search engines, and that the relevant Usenet groups were informed (groups like alt.british.humor). There is a link to the site from the AOL home page, from the politics section of Yahoo and from just about every Internet search engine, as well as the pages of dozens of enthusiasts.
We can justify the audience figures (see below) with data automatically generated whenever anyone accesses any of the pages, which are on a BTnet Web server, part of the larger Intervid site, at the address: http://www.intervid.co.uk/eye.
The cost of placing Private Eye within the Intervid site is lower than the cost of serving the magazine from its own unique address. Most Net users will either have the address stored in their own bookmark file or they will arrive there through a link from a search engine or another Website.
Behind this laid-back approach we had some specific targets:
1 Gain subscriptions through the Internet
2 Sell small ads through the Internet
3 Support newsstand sales
4 Sell small ads and display advertising within the Website
5 Sell links within the Website
Subscribers to the magazine have a choice. They can write to or fax the subscription department in London, or they can fill in a form on the Intervid secure server (https://www.intervid.com), enclosing their credit card details. A secure server ought to be a real reassurance to anyone worried about fraud because a) it really is secure from hackers searching for credit card number, and b) to operate a secure server it is neccessary to receive clearance from the provider of the software, which has a duty to check that the company is reputable.
Nevertheless, there is still a strong resistance to giving credit card details away over the Internet, a resistance fuelled by propaganda from the credit card companies that want the market to wait until they have set their own secure trading standards, perhaps later this year.
We have sold hundreds of subscriptions, averaging one per day over the entire period. We have sold a few dozen small ads, and we believe that the printed version has received some computer-related display advertising as a result of being perceived as Net-friendly. There is also an intangible benefit to newsstand sales as former readers are reminded of its existence when surfing the Net, and buy the product later.
We do not study the numbers of “hits”, which is a measure of the number of files downloaded (although some media owners still sell ad space according to the number of hits). Hits are a meaningless statistic, because a page with nine graphics will attract ten hits every time the Webmaster accesses the site.
We count “unique hosts” – a measure of the number of individual computers that visit the site.
Survey research by Intervid together with Switch – the Swiss academic network – led us to the conclusion that there is (conservatively) an average of three users to each unique host. This corresponded to the qualitative evidence which suggested that where one person in an academic institution or company was a reader, there were likely to be others. We receive regular requests from readers who want to put Private Eye on their local network (or Intranet), for example, where dozens of colleagues will have access. And many Internet providers, including Compuserve, lump their users together under one unique host.
Solving the problems of audience measurement on the Internet needs a coordinated effort by the publishing and advertising industries, and it is urgent they unite behind a standard that advertisers can accept.
As well as totalling the number of machines accessing Private Eye Website each week, it is also possible to subdivide them according to which country they are from. The audience is roughly a third UK, a third US and a third rest of the world. When the subscription price dropped there was a noticeable surge of UK interest in the subscription pages, for example. The analysis of the access can get as sophisticated as you like. But we have not gone to the trouble because nobody was interested. We haven’t sold a single online ad since the launch.
The aim was to make money by selling subscriptions and small ads in the magazine, and the results so far have been moderately successful. In the background lurks the hope that we might yet find some online advertisers, prepared to buy links from Private Eye pages to their own.