Newspapers Call ABC's Consolidated Media Report Unfit For Print, Reveal Their Own

A day after an influential trade magazine introduced a promising new method for measuring and reporting total audiences of print, digital and online publications, another major print medium - newspapers - raised concerns about that approach and introduced its own. "If this were a media math class, they would flunk," Mike Donatello, director of research at USA Today, quipped in reaction to the Audit Bureau of Circulations new Consolidated Media Report, which purports to measure the gross readership of publications distributed in print and online.

"I have a problem with the way ABC seems to have gone about it, methodologically," echoed Gary Kromer, director of research for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and a member of the Newspaper Association of America's influential Research Federation.

"Right now they're positioning it as a net figure--but it's not a net figure, because it's not extracting the duplication between print and online readership," he explained. "Until ABC clarifies that I don't think it's going to be particularly useful."



On Tuesday, the ABC released the first of its new Consolidated Media Reports, which was conducted on behalf of trade magazine Advertising Age, which publishes in print, via digital editions and online. The report generates a consolidated audience estimate combining a publication's qualified circulation, pass-along readership, and the publication Web site's unique visitors. The last figure is derived from the same site-based visitor tracking that provides some data used by Web ratings companies like Nielsen//NetRatings and comScore--but it doesn't provide identifying information that would allow an accurate comparison with subscription lists, meaning that there's potential for significant overlap.

Initially, the ABC, which is known mainly for auditing the circulation of consumer magazines and newspapers, is offering the new report for business publications, but the approach is generating interest among consumer publications as well. The report is the latest in a series of new products developed by the ABC over the last few years in an effort to diversify beyond its core business of circulation audits, something that has also fallen under criticism in the past few years following a number of high-profile magazine and newspaper circulation misstatements audited by the ABC. The diversification also comes as the BPA, a rival to the ABC known mainly for auditing business publications, has begun moving more aggressively into consumer magazines.

It also comes at a time when new magazine audience measurement products are being introduced by other companies, including Mediamark Research Inc., the bible for consumer magazine planning, and upstart, which was launched recently by magazine industry research diva Rebecca McPheters.

Scarborough Research, which is regarded as the bible for planning newspaper media buys, Wednesday unveiled what may be the newspaper industry's approach to reporting consolidated media audiences. The method, outlined in a new Integrated Newspaper Audience white paper published online, finds that people who read a newspaper's website who don't also read its printed edition account for upwards of 15 percent of a paper's total audience. The incremental online audience can account for a gain of hundreds of thousands of readers for many papers in larger markets.

"With all of the negativity the newspaper industry has been subject to, we are pleased to report that our analysis finds a positive story headline: newspapers are successfully extending their audience online," stated Gary Meo, senior vice president-print and Internet services at Scarborough. "Newspaper websites are attracting people that may not read the printed paper, resulting in audience growth overall. Demonstrating the strength of the combined print and Internet audience is critical to the future of the newspaper industry and that's what the Integrated Newspaper Audience metric does. It quantifies the newspaper audience in ways that circulation or print readership alone cannot."

It's still unclear from newspaper executives how they plan to make such consolidated audience data a regular feature of the newspaper planning process, but they also are clearly opposed to the method chosen by the ABC to report business publications.

"For example, our readership for our print product is just over a million over the course of a week, and our Web site is about 143,000--but well over 100,000 of that is subscribers," the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Kromer recalled. As an alternative he pointed to figures from readership measurement firm Scarborough, which "gives you the past week newspaper readership and past week Web site usage, and identifies how much is from newspaper alone, and how much is from Web site alone, and how much is overlap." And overlap is often significant, Kromer remarked, as "all the research shows that the people who go to the Web site tend to be 'newsaholics,' who also have subscriptions, and use the two outlets for different purposes."

Newspaper executives also raised doubts about ABC's pass-along readership figures, which according to the ABC Web site are derived entirely from the "auditable aspects" of each publication's "subscriber file"--meaning that survey queries tracing transfers of a particular issue start with the subscriber, not the recipient. And according to Donatello, "at least on the consumer side of publications, just asking people how many other people read your copy is a notoriously unreliable way to measure readership... it could be grossly inaccurate."

Some magazine industry vets, however, see the new ABC report as a promising step in the right direction.

Steve Greenberger, senior vice president and chief strategic marketing officer at DJG Marketing and a former print services exec on Madison Avenue who has chaired ABC committees, is someone who is enthusiastic.

"There's been so much discussion about the ABC statement and its need to have greater transparency, and I think this latest version is headed in the right direction," he noted. "It allows [titles] to disclose their public place circulation in a more enlightening way, so as to break out different venues." Greenberger also said it allows users "to see a lot of the numbers add up in a simple, easy-to-read format."

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