The discussion on the readers-per-copy (RPC) subject comes up just about every time members of the newspapers and magazines industry question the recurrent decline in readership numbers, despite the increase in circulation. The Media Research Users Council (MRUC), in its address to the industry on November 4, attempted to explain some of the factors that may lead to this decrease in readership.
Ashok Das, Chairman, Hansa Research spoke to the audience on RPC and its various facets. He pointed out that this part of the survey was accomplished by observing only 145 publications, the circulation numbers of which were available from the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC).
Quoting the data of average household size from the IRS 2008, he informed that both in urban and rural India, the concept of the nuclear families was gaining ground and the household size was steadily decreasing. This is one of the key reasons that increasing circulation may not have the same effect on readership. At the same time, the urban population has grown at 3.73 per cent, whereas the rural population has grown at 2.26 per cent in the last three years. IRS data trends show that urbanisation has an effect on average RPC. Where in areas that have up to 50 per cent urban readership, the average RPC for a gross circulation of 140 is 4.8, in areas that have 75 per cent urban readership, the average RPC for a gross circulation of 139 is 2.2.
Das said here, "There are very clear trends that the youth readership is on a decline, and that further reduces the scope of the same copy being read by multiple individuals. These factors combine to show a steadily declining RPC, a trend that seems likely to be sustained, as has been seen in more developed countries."
Readership contribution: Who's in; who's not
Taking the audience through some of the numbers of 'Press Reach' data from the IRS 2008, Das pointed out that there was a sharp decline in the readership of the younger audiences. The age group of 20-29 years contribute immensely to the overall reader base and the average issue readership (AIR) loss in this segment since 2005 to 2008 has been 16.5 per cent. The age groups of 12-14 and 15-19 have also seen significant decline in readership since 2005. At the same time, the 40 years plus TG has show strong support to print.
If the gender segmentation had to be seen, the efforts of the newspaper and magazine industry to increase female readership seems to have paid off. The AIR decline in the female audience is 2.8 per cent since 2005. In comparison, the male TG has seen a 10.7 per cent decline.
The print industry may have some good news when the numbers of the socio-economic class readership is observed. Even as the overall AIR has declined, and SEC B, C, D and E have shown decline in readership, data shows that SEC A has defied the decline trend, and shows a healthy 5.8 increase in AIR since 2005.
In simple words, urbanisation has challenged the conventional rule of more readers for a single copy at home. At the same time, the younger audiences are not too impressed with the written word. The good news from the numbers is that the 40-plus TG that comprises key decision makers in the SEC A strata is still depending on the print medium, and contributing to its growth. To add to this, female readers are also showing their support to the print medium.
The Indian readership story may not be all that gloomy too.