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Total Readership flayed as a fallible readership currency
Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Varghese Chandy and Tomson J Thundathil

Few rounds back, MRUC HAD introduced the concept of ‘Total Readership’ in IRS as if it is a totally new concept. In fact, NRS was always reporting total readership of publications as ‘Claimed Readership’ without giving much importance and not making a big noise. In the last two rounds, MRUC has replaced average issue readership (AIR) with total readership for their top line presentations during the release of the IRS data, whereas in the latest round, they have even gone to the extent of AIR being excluded from the cross-tab of the IRS Analyzer software.

But can the industry accept total readership as the currency for readership? How is it comparable with the currencies for other media like television and radio? Total readership is nothing but the total reach in a specified period. But total readership is not something that you arrive at through research. This is a hypothetical figure. For example, the total readership of Hindustan Times Delhi is 20.5 per cent, whereas the total reach even after adding 50 insertions is only 20.03 per cent. Do any of us go for 50 insertions in a daily while planning a campaign? But even if we do that, we cannot achieve what we claim as ‘Total Readership’.

I will be happy to claim that the reach of Malayala Manorama in Kerala is 43.1 per cent when I meet the advertisers and ad agencies. But when they do the media plan, even if they put 50 insertions, the reach of Malayala Manorama daily will be only 41.58 per cent. When I do the entire analysis and presentation based on total readership (since I cannot do cross tab using AIR), which is a non-attainable figure, the simple reply from the advertiser or agency will be that they don’t have the money to take 50 insertions on Malayala Manorama, and even if they do that they will not get this reach.

The basic requirement of any media currency is that it should give an indication on the number of people that can be reached through that media vehicle. That is what is indicated by AIR (print) and TRP (television). But as far as total readership is concerned, it doesn’t give any such indication. On the contrary, this gives the indication of maximum reach possible through that publication, but God knows with how many insertions.

Besides, when AIR represents average readership per one insertion, the number of insertions required to reach even near to the total readership will be different for different publications. So, it is not fair to compare the total readership of publications, forget those with different frequencies, but even for those with the same frequency. For any advertiser or ad agency, when they consider publications for media plan, he cannot select a publication based on the fact that after n insertions the publication will give you x per cent reach.

When the ratio between AIR and total readership is close to 1, that publication is considered as a strong one. But when we talk about the total readership of publications without mentioning AIR, this concept itself gets defeated.

In the initial period of readership research, it was ‘Through the Book Reading’ method that was used for measurement of readership. After that, when the number of titles increased, researchers started using AIR, and this is the most used readership currency in the world. But total readership is not a tested one and is not yet used as a readership currency. Moreover, unless you are able to use it for media planning and for comparison of publications, it does not make any sense.

If the only objective of projecting total readership is to make readership comparable with television reach (reported in IRS as last one week), then it would have been ideal to change the definition of television reach in IRS, but then, no media planner is planning television based on the reach in IRS. The currency for television planning is done based on TRP, which is available second by second. If this exercise is to prove that readership has gone up three times (from last round AIR to this round total readership), I don’t think there would be any takers for that. At the same time, total readership is dropping compared to last round total readership for most of the publications.

What we need is to find out if there is any better method to capture readership in a better way. Also, we need to change the definition of other media measurement in the readership survey to make it more comparable to the readership that what is there now.

(Varghese Chandy is Senior General Manager, Marketing Operations, Malayala Manorama, while Tomson J Thundathil is Manager, Marketing Research, Malayala Manorama.)

To contact Varghese Chandy, click here

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