Audit Bureau for Newspapers Now Includes Online Readers

  investigation analysis publication 4 
  Originally uploaded by eschipul

The Audit Bureau of Circulations
now is going to include online numbers in newspaper "read" figures.
File this under "if the math doesn’t add up change the operators."

Bureau Makes It Official: Newspaper Circulation Statistics Group Will
Roll Online Readership into Circ Figures to Help Slumping Industry

The Audit Bureau of Circulations said this week that it would begin tallying online readership as well as print-edition circulation in a boost to an industry where advertising sales have suffered from a migration of readers to the Web.
The organization said it would release newspapers’ print, online and
combined readership figures. The numbers are a key factor in
negotiations on newspaper advertising rates between newspapers and
marketers, Reuters reports. (more on newspaper audit figures)

added. Note the focus on "newspaper advertising sales" as the driver.
If this is done realistically then it is a good thing. But
unfortunately with newspaper ad salespeople this is unlikely. As
Disraeli said "there are lies, damn lies, and statistics."

Specifically when it comes to advertising I have always found the
"readership as a big multiple of subscriptions" to be an insult to a
business man’s intelligence. You have 10 subscribers, and hey, they
leave it on the coffee table so 7 other people read it, so we charge an
advertiser as if that 1 subscription equated to 8 readers. Oh really?

I have never met a newspaper man or woman who could explain their particular newspapers rate card
multiples to me while maintaining eye contact and a straight face. Yet
is persists. It would be one thing if circulation was multiplied times
two for readership, but 7 to 10 times? Oh bologna!

From this post on rate cards:

Circulation is the number of newspapers that are printed and
distributed each day. Readership reflects the actual number of people
who read those newspapers

Emphasis added. And this is why I am scared. Readership figures are NOT the actual number of readers. Heck, even circulations are frequently faked,
at least the calculation of subscriptions to readership is blatant and
public. They don’t pass the "common sense" test, but at least you know
you are being hosed.

My question is, given how easy it is to fake web analytics, will the
lack of statistical ethos carry over and be turned into multiples of
RSS feeds?

There is a SMALL justification for this in that bloglines
grabs your feed, and then serves it out to x number of reader. But they
*do* show how many readers in their request to the server (ask your
programmers – it is there). And just because an RSS feed was pushed out
to my reader doesn’t mean I didn’t hit the "mark all as read" button
due to time limitations.

Bottom line: newspaper "readership" rates offline are bogus. This
history of poor math skills when it comes to advertising sales bodes
poorly for an ethical entry into online readership calculations. Be
afraid advertisers, be very afraid.