In some past roles, I’ve occasionally had the dispiriting experience of visiting a subscriber at work for one reason or another, only to see the last three issues of one of my magazines still wrapped in plastic in their in-tray.

It reminds us that circulation is only part of the story – and maintaining reader’s attention is the equally important part of the story.

A lot of the focus of marketers is based around metrics such as circulation and subscription data. While this is an essential first step – and if a magazine doesn’t even have that, run, don’t walk – marketers also need to look at the next level; audience engagement.

There are a few ways to measure this. Magazine publishers should be able to provide you with data on how engaged their audience is. Some key stats to look for include, how much of the magazine their subscribers actually read, what they do with their copy when done, and how they view the magazine.

While it would be nice to live in a world where you could take everyone at their word, there are also a few key independent ways to verify reader engagement yourself. I recommend;

  1. Look at the historical audit figures

Have a look at the magazine’s independently audited circulation figures over time. Are they declining or increasing? How does the trend compare with other magazines? A fast declining audience is a sure sign of a lack of engagement, whereas an increase is likely to reflect a strong and growing interest in the content.

  1. Talk to your customers

Ideally you’d have the money to do some independent research of your customers, asking them what magazines they read and other sources they use to get their info from. If (like most small businesses) you lack the resources to do this, some simple anecdotal research can go a long way. Ask your customers which magazines they actually read, not just which ones they get. Ask what they like about the magazines they read, what articles or sections they enjoy most.

  1. Read it yourself

Is this the sort of magazine you would actually read regularly yourself? Does it have worthwhile content, or just advertorial? If you like reading it yourself, chances are your customers will, and if you don’t, they probably don’t either.

Magazines with a well targeted, niche readership often get deep levels of engagement from readers. When people read a magazine with engaging content, they really take time out and their world slows down around them. Getting their attention at this point is incredibly valuable.

But don’t be fooled – no matter how good a magazine may look or appear, in the end, if your customers and prospects aren’t reading the magazine, they’re not seeing your ad and it hasn’t been worth the money you’ve spent.