By: Mark Fitzgerald
For decades, the Audit Bureau of Circulations preached that paid circulation was the best circulation,
that advertisers should value paid most highly because it showed a reader’s “wanted-ness.” Since it began to lower its “paid-circulation” definition, first to 25% of a so-called basic subscription and then to any price at all, including a penny, ABC has had to endure sniping from cynics who say deeply discounted copies in paid circ is just a way of disguising circulation declines.
Paid is still a big deal for many advertisers. “When someone pays for something, it shows they think it has value,” says Ed Cicale, vice president/media services for AutoNation Inc. and an advertiser director on ABC’s board.
But it turns out that the conventional wisdom about the connection between paid and “wanted-ness” is just wrong.
When the Newspaper Association of America conducted research on the issue, it drew a surprising conclusion. “What we found is that there is not a correlation between price paid and likelihood of reading, how thoroughly they read the paper, and how they respond to advertising,” says John Murray, NAA’s vice president of audience development.
Customers with discounted subscriptions and those paying the full freight spend the same amount of time reading their copies, about 43 minutes. NAA measured “engagement” with advertising by surveying readers’ level of attention to ads. The level was pretty high at any price point, but customers with discounted subscriptions were actually somewhat more likely then full-cost, seven-day subscribers to report they “thoroughly” read the advertising in a newspaper.
“That whole wanted-ness thing doesn’t hold up,” Murray says. “Once it’s a paid publication, how much they pay doesn’t seem to matter.”
There’s also not a whole lot of difference between single-copy readers who pay for the copy or pick it up for free. Paying customers report reading the paper for 33 minutes. That’s longer than free-copy readers – by 60 seconds.