RFID Positioned to Aid Measurement of Traditional Print: Pilots Offer New Possibilities


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Despite the steady move to econtent by publishers, printers, academia, and corporations, there are still plenty of people who want paper and turn to digital content only reluctantly, according to Jean Bedord, consultant and senior analyst with Shore Communications, Inc.

Even though the ability to print documents automatically extends back 500 years now, there's never been a good way for advertisers to track who's reading and, in particular, how many people are actually reading advertisements. They've used phone surveys, coupons, and response cards, but none provide the same advertising and usage tracking information that can be gleaned from the Internet.

The need for better tracking of print advertising finally has been infused with new possibility, courtesy of a digital content technology. An increasing number of radio frequency identification (RFID) pilots are being undertaken. In them, the technology is used to measure the readership of not only individual issues of printed publications, but also the individual pages of those publications.

RFID technology uses a microchip, an antenna, and radio waves to identify people or objects. Some of these devices also can store information to be analyzed later. Current methods of print audience measurement typically employ written surveys and/or face-to-face or telephone interviews with respondents who agree to participate in the study. RFID provides a potential way to automate measurement of print content usage.

In a recently announced RFID-print pilot, MediaMark Research is teaming up with TagSense Inc., a technology development company, to test RFID as a means of measuring magazine readership. TagSense, which specializes in developing RFID applications, grew out of The Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. RFID is one of several new audience measurement techniques that MRI has been exploring for the past two years, according to the company.

MRI and Tagsense say they will work to develop different types of RFID systems that could be suited to magazines. In the announcement of the agreement, TagSense said it would experiment with a variety of sensors and tag readers to determine the optimal designs for measuring exposure to magazines. MRI will then conduct small-scale tests using RFID technology in controlled environments. The success of these trials will help to determine which technologies may be practical to fund in the long term.

"What's exciting about these pilots is that they're going right to the heart of the inefficiency," Bedord says. However, she stresses that these are indeed pilots, so the technology needs to go further before it's proven. "Implementing this is more complex than just the technology," she says. "It includes how the information is imprinted on these magazines, the device that picks up the signal and the database behind it. Then you have to have the proper research methodology. It will take time to determine how all of these different pieces will work together."

Bedord likens the status of RFID technology today to that of barcodes about 10 years ago. At that time, barcodes could be used in stockrooms, but had not advanced to the point where every individual item could be barcoded and the information scanned and used in a meaningful way.

She expects RFID to be used for plenty of market research within five years and to become so commonplace in 10 years that nobody takes much note of it, much like people treat barcodes today.

(www.mediamark.com; www.shore.com; www.tagsense.com)