SURVEYS OF READERSHIP OF VETERINARY PUBLICATIONS IN THE UK

A RECENT survey by a commercial enterprise of “the use of veterinary media: social media, vet publications and apps” included the question: “Which veterinary publications, magazines, online publications, apps or forums do you follow?”.

This, said the firm, “is clearly not an exact representation of readership as a vet can follow a publication regardless of how many times they read an individual issue or how many times they log into a website. We consider it’s a good way to compare different publication types with just one question.” A total of 471 vets and 106 vet nurses were reported to have answered this question with 85% of the vets and 87% of the nurses saying they followed Veterinary Times. “A vet can follow Vet Times even if they read it only once a month, or even less frequently,” the firm stated.

As no “commercial” publication in the veterinary field has ever (previously) come close to achieving such levels of “readership” or “following”, Veterinary Practice asked the company what tests or checks it carried out to assess the accuracy or validity of answers received. The response was that they would not go into details as to how they verified results. This would indicate that answers from the firm’s “panel” are taken at face value and hence the figures quoted above.

The company did say that the figures were “a very close mirror of what was reported last year” – but that may well be because if you ask the same group of people the same question year on year they are likely to come up the same answer! But, as demonstrated by feedback at CPD events run by Veterinary Practice, more than 40% of veterinary surgeons are confused about what publications they read (or “follow”) and it is clear that many do not distinguish between the “magloid freebies” (Veterinary Practice and Veterinary Times) when responding to surveys.

Practical Course Coordinator

Veterinary Practice raised the issue with the authors of the survey referred to above because no survey of the readership of veterinary publications has ever given an accurate reflection of what veterinary surgeons actually read and vets are notoriously inaccurate in their recall of where they have read particular articles, unless it is in the publication (or newsletter) associated with their specialist interest.

Veterinary Practice runs two CPD events each year (in Manchester and Exeter). These are aimed at attracting up to 300 delegates (mainly veterinary surgeons but also veterinary nurses and managers) for high-quality CPD in really good locations. The only publication in which they are mentioned and promoted is Veterinary Practice (apart from a very brief mention in Veterinary Times just before the first one took place in June 2012 and a small advertisement in the CPD section of that publication prior to VetsSouth 2016).

Feedback forms completed by delegates at each event ask where they heard about the event. Among 10 options are the names of three publications: Veterinary Times, Veterinary Record and Veterinary Practice. Veterinary Practice is the only one of the publications at the event (delegates all receive a copy when they arrive) and the Veterinary Practice logo is featured on pull-up banners, on PowerPoint slides in the main sessions, and elsewhere.

Despite this, at all the events since 2012 to the end of 2015, close to 40% of delegates (sometimes a little over, sometimes just under) tick the box alongside Veterinary Times to indicate that they heard about the event via that publication – even though it would have been impossible for them to have done so. Some also put a tick alongside Veterinary Record – at VetsNorth 2015, almost 47% of delegates marked one or other of those publications. Generally about a quarter tick the Veterinary Practice box. A few delegates tick all three and in 2015 one delegate wrote on the form: “One of the magazines but can’t remember which.”

While this is not a survey – or research – as such, it is a clear indication of the poor recall by veterinary surgeons of what publications they have read and is in line with the unreliable readership figures in surveys conducted over the past 45 years the current editor of Veterinary Practice has been involved. He edited Veterinary Practice from April 1971 to June 1989 – for all but the first year it was published twice a month and during the mid to late 1980s had one of the highest readership rates of any free issue publication in any field in the UK, but at no time exceeding 80%. Anything over 65% is generally considered excellent for this type of publication.

From July 1989 until December 2004, he edited Veterinary Times: it was generally eight and occasionally 12 pages a month when he started and 32-36 pages a week when he left. The publication never quite achieved the peak readership rate of Veterinary Practice but came quite close to it in the late 1990s but dropped back a bit after going weekly in the early 2000s. It is, however, a very strong title, made more so by the recruitment ads which have been developed since 2005-06.

Veterinary Practice ceased publication in 2007 and was re-launched under new management in March 2008: it has since found a comfortable niche as a monthly broad-spectrum news-magazine for the profession.

Following a major readership survey some years ago (which was followed by a second, similar one) funded by the various publications plus some advertising companies, Veterinary Practice conducted some small-scale research, principally to satisfy ourselves that a number of the figures in the survey did not paint an accurate picture of actual readership.

The main approach was to ask veterinary surgeons, either on the phone or, more commonly, face-to-face, this question: “In which veterinary publication or publications do columns by (a) Bradley Viner and (b) Gareth Cross appear regularly?”

These two columnists were used as they are general practitioners writing for general practitioners and the columns they produce are widely read; Dr Viner was commissioned in 1996 (or thereabouts) to write for Veterinary Times and Mr Cross in 2008 to write for Veterinary Practice: both continue to write each month and are (or were at the time commissioned) the highest paid writers for each publication.

Out of well over a hundred veterinary surgeons approached to date, more than 80% have said they are either “aware of” or are “familiar with” the columns but only one in four could correctly name which publications the columns appeared in. When shown (or in the case of phone calls they have looked at) the front covers of recent issues of Veterinary Times, Veterinary Record and Veterinary Practice, the correct identification rate has risen only slightly with several people who had been correct in the first place actually changing their minds. Three people have so far had both of them writing for the Veterinary Record ; 37 people have had them both writing in Veterinary Times; and eight have placed them both in Veterinary Practice. In Practice has also featured in replies. Quite a few people questioned have named Veterinary Times as home to Gareth’s column and Veterinary Practice as the place to find Bradley’s column.

Gareth Cross receives more feedback from his columns than any other writer published by either Veterinary Times or Veterinary Practice, but this is quite likely due to the ease of giving feedback these days via e-mail or social media. He regularly includes his e-mail address in his column and it is not unusual for him to receive an e-mail beginning something like: “Just read your column in the latest Vet Times…”

When this issue of poor recollection by vets of which publications they read was raised with the principal author of the readership surveys mentioned above, we were told, somewhat abruptly, “That’s why we include the logos on the survey forms”, as if that solved the problem. It certainly does not. We tracked down a number of people who had returned the form in the second survey. The first person who recalled completing it said he remembered it particularly because he had reached the foot of the first page before he realised he had mixed up In Practice with Veterinary Practice! He sent the form in anyway. Quite a number of others have acknowledged that as Veterinary Times is the publication they see most often, they often do not distinguish it from Veterinary Practice.

Even readers who have made comments like, “I do like Veterinary Practice,” have been incorrect in their recall of content in that and other publications.

The veterinary profession is unusual in this aspect of recall. It is, however, clear that to gain any accurate reflection of readership patterns in the profession, a different approach is required. It is beyond the scope of this summary to present one though in-depth face-to-face surveys with copies of journals present would seem the obvious, though prohibitively expensive, choice.

Postscript.Veterinary Practice currently (April 2016) estimates that it has close to 17,000 readers each month: approximately two thirds read the printed copy and one third access it via www.vetsurgeon.org, by e-mail link via www.veterinary-practice.com or by the increasingly popular and interactive VP+ app. While the majority of readers are veterinary surgeons in practice, it is also read by many veterinary nurses, practice managers and other support staff as well as by veterinary surgeons and nurses in industry, laboratories, academia, research, government departments, etc..