As newspaper circ declines, a renewed call for a ‘readership’ metric
While much of the buzz around audience measurement centers on digital distribution, there’s plenty of work to be done on the print side as well. As newspaper publishers get hammered by advertisers in the wake of steadily falling print circulation, it’s no surprise that some are touting “readership” as a better gauge of a newspaper’s total reach.
The readership metric – which Scarborough Research defines as the number or percentage of adults in a local market who read the newspaper – has been around for decades. Now, however, researchers such as Scarborough and auditors like the Audit Bureau of Circulations are starting to incorporate digital editions into their measurement scope, in hopes of providing a better picture of the total newspaper audience – and convincing media buyers to take a fresh look at readership as a true measure of a newspaper's reach.
A recent report (pdf) from Scarborough Research and the Newspaper National Network makes the case that readership is an important metric for media planning and buying because it provides more depth than straight circulation figures. As part of its annual syndicated consumer research, Scarborough interviews more than 210,000 adults about their newspaper consumption, but also captures demographic and lifestyle information, along with purchase behavior.
The report also notes that while readership and circulation are highly correlated, readership is decreasing at a slower rate than circulation. As important, the research found that the number of pass-along readers – as measured by a “readers per copy” metric – was increasing.
“The perception is that no one is reading the newspaper,” says Gary Meo, senior vice president of print and digital media services with Scarborough Research. “But the reality is that circulation declines are not translating to commensurate declines in readership.”
Measuring audience instead of circulation also will help newspaper sales teams create more compelling integrated media programs, according to Meo.
“Newspapers are becoming increasingly more cross-platform,” he says. “And the only platform with a circulation measure is newspapers. Everyone else counts people instead of copies. Buying newspapers based on circulation is similar to buying TV advertising based on the number of TV sets.”
The ABC, meanwhile, has been working with the Newspaper Association of America to address the growing cross-platform reach of newspapers. In October, newspapers will be able to begin reporting e-reader distribution averages and mobile app purchases as part of their publisher statements.
“The industry needs to do a better job focusing less on circulation and more on readership,” says Meo. “Some are doing it. But others still talk about circ numbers in their sales presentations. I don’t really care what your circulation is; how many people are you reaching?”