John Sturm of NAA Responds to Column on Readership

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By: E&P Staff

John Sturm, president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America, sent the following letter to E&P on Tuesday, responding to a recent online Shoptalk column by Jay Schiller:

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Two metaphorical thoughts are prompted by reading Jay Schiller’s commentary “The Good Ship Readership” (E&P Online, May 18)- – that one cannot compare apples to oranges, and that it is easy to miss the forest when concentrating on the trees.

Mr. Schiller certainly is right that newspaper publishers are increasing their focus on readership as a metric of value delivered to readers and advertisers. Newspapers are left as one of the few media that are not judged routinely on actual use, as is the case with television and radio, but instead on the historical measure of paid circulation — a number that by its nature cannot capture data such as how many readers are in any given household, to what extent readers rely on electronic delivery to access newspaper content (and advertising), the demographic and psychographic characteristics of that audience and the actions taken as a result of reading, or how much value accrues from copies that don’t have a direct cost for their readers. Publishers and advertisers turn to readership data to measure just such things.

Were newspapers suggesting changing the evaluation metric from something everyone else is using to some new thing, perhaps Schiller’s comments would hold more water. In fact, what we are suggesting is the move to what other media use — namely the measurement and evaluation of audience, not how many units of the medium were consumed that day. “Consumed by whom?” is the question needing to be answered.

When Schiller cites the set of reader profile information figures that accompany the FAS/FAX numbers, he’s trying to force comparisons on a flawed “apples to oranges” basis. The reader profile contributes some demographic context to the FAS/FAX circulation data — but it doesn’t convey the complete readership picture.

Beyond that, there are issues of timing with these data streams; cyclicality in some of the reader numbers and other factors that contribute to what Schiller mistakenly claims as a divergence between readership and circulation numbers. Put simply, reader profile numbers and FAS/FAX numbers are not even measuring the same period of time.

More to the point of overall readership, Schiller misses the big picture when he goes on to use individual snapshots of reader profile data from a handful of papers to suggest that newspapers are experiencing some steep decline in overall readership. That’s simply not the case, as is borne out by the ongoing readership study that NAA has commissioned from Scarborough – our Newspaper Audience Measurement Index (NAMI). The NAMI looks at the top 50 newspaper markets and shows that for both daily and Sunday, readership has remained relatively stable across the last decade.

NAA continues to develop and refine readership measurement techniques — in fact, we’ll have additional readership research studies in the field this fall and early next year. But already, advertisers turn to readership data for comprehensive looks at the value their newspaper advertising delivers — and it’s a data pool that we know provides value for them.

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