September 2011 saw a landmark development for print publications, when the Indian Readership Survey (IRS) and the National Readership Survey (NRS) merged to form the Readership Studies Council of India (RSCI). The IRS has drawn a lot of flak regarding issues relating to accuracy in numbers, sample size, portraying emerging readership trends, research and measurement methodologies having a greater focus on newspaper readership as compared to periodicals, and extending the survey to emerging areas.
exchange4media asks six industry experts about their observations regarding the survey and the suggestions that they would like to put forth before the RSCI on the approach to measurement. Here are their views:
Readership across different access points should be taken into account: Dr Bhaskar Das, President, The Times Group
“Casual readership has gone up. People are travelling more; the definition of cities has changed now. Spending time on news through e-papers, websites, etc., are also access points. Readership has a new challenge in this aspect. The other challenges are the kind of people collecting data, length of the questionnaire, how to use technology to collect data. Overall, the metrology has to be in sync with the times so that it becomes a useful tool for media planning or media buying and so on. It has to address – Is there a possibility of measurement of engagement? What is the source of purchase – are people buying from stalls or getting it delivered at home? Is it at subscription or full price? But changes will take place gradually, since there is suddenly an explosion of media options coming up so the currencies and metrics of measurement will take some time to match up. It’s good that NRS and IRS have joined hands to become the RSCI. For publications, to invest in both is very difficult. So, it is much better to pool resources together and create a robust study that is practical.”
Extend measurement to emerging areas to be truly indicative of readership: Suresh Srinivasan, Vice President - Advertising, The Hindu
“There are quite a few deficiencies in the IRS methodology. Let me point out one such limitation – Chennai has grown well beyond the corporation limits. We deliver our paper to many communities living outside the limits also. The IRS takes into consideration the readership only within the corporation limits. Therefore, it is not truly indicative of the actual readership. A single body rather than two parallel sets of measurement can conduct a robust study which is more exhaustive, benefitting the industry. As for suggestions, once the methodology is in place, improvements can be made.”
Separate studies for dailies and periodicals: DD Purkayastha, Managing Director & CEO, ABP Pvt Ltd
Three shortcomings of the IRS and ways to improve measurement:
1. Separate studies for magazines and dailies: We all know that magazines are consumed differently from dailies; they have a longer shelf life and unlike dailies, magazines are mostly impulse purchases. But the methodologies in the existing readership surveys are essentially geared towards newspapers. That is precisely why the idea of a separate ‘engagement study’ for magazines came up at the Indian Magazine Congress 2010. Magazines often target segmented niche audience (special interest segment) and if sufficient sample is not covered, the figures tend to throw up wrong pictures.
2. Publishing – yearly or once in 6 months: There are no huge shifts in newspaper reading habits quarter to quarter. It is relevant only in markets which see a lot of new launches. This quarterly data results in a short term orientation, both in content creation and strategy, which is detrimental for the brand.
3. Parallel statistical method for interpretation should be used: Often, no reason can be attributed to sudden decline/ increase in figures on segments (especially age-group/ SEC profiling) that might signal trend or new/ paradigm shift in consumption habit. A fee-based service may be introduced where the subscribers can be provided with the reasons for such sudden changes.
Ensure surveyors can communicate well with upmarket audiences: Maheshwar Peri, Publisher of Outlook magazine and President, Outlook Publishing India Pvt Ltd
“Magazine publishers were never happy with the IRS as they could not capture the readership of reach of SEC A audiences, which most magazines reach out to. IRS admitted the fallacy in many presentations, but could not come up with a solution. With RSCI having more resources, it is hoped that it would make efforts to remove the biggest drawback of IRS – capturing the SEC A audiences right. Please have booster samples in metros and also ensure that the profile of the surveyors is such that they can communicate with the upmarket audiences.”
Arrive at a research design suited to the magazine industry: Mitrajit Bhattacharya, President & Publisher, Chitralekha Group & Vice President, AIM
“The magazine fraternity has never been satisfied with the findings of IRS because of the simple fact that IRS is designed to capture readership of dailies and hence, fail miserably in addressing the issues of magazines, which are heterogeneous by nature as compared to the dailies. Dailies are projected relatively well to their universe within each survey centre, being well-distributed within that centre, whereas for magazines, which are largely national by nature and not so well distributed in each survey centre, projections often go awry.
We are happy that there is a separate Magazine Sub-Committee, which has now been set up to look into the issues of the research design as far the magazines are concerned. What we expect is to arrive at a research design which is most suited to the magazine industry (assuming there were no newspapers) and then possibly work back feasibility rather than trying to force-fit our requirements into the standard IRS model by adding a module here or there. The complexity of the magazine industry, with specialised products ranging from ‘haircare’ to ‘agriculture’, leads to the challenge of approaching measurement for magazines.”
Re-visit the definition of average issue readership and not define it by mechanical time periods: Anant Nath, Director of Delhi Press Group and Managing Editor, The Caravan
“There have been persistent problems in IRS, especially with respect to their methodology for surveying magazine readership. IRS has always had an overwhelming focus on newspaper readership, while giving secondary emphasis on the qualitative aspects of magazine readership. When we get down to breaking the IRS results for magazines into smaller territories, we often get bizarre and inconsistent values. For instance, for one of our own magazines ‘Grihshobha’ Hindi, according to IRS, the magazine has 18,000 readers in SEC A in Jaipur, 1,000 in SEC and 2,000 SEC C, so a ratio of 85:5:10. In another city, Lucknow, the magazine has 8,000 each in SEC A and B and none in C, so a ratio of 50:50:0, and the comparative ratio in Ludhiana of 44:16:40 in the three SECs. Clearly, these are big inconsistencies, which are echoed all throughout the data. If IRS as a whole is a sum of such inconsistencies, where is the credibility? Somewhere, the IRS is not able to efficiently collect data for magazine readership, which is more filtered and far more geographically dispersed than newspapers.”
On how the RSCI could approach measurement: “First and foremost, design the questionnaire in a way that it is practically feasible for a respondent to give real answers. If magazines come after an exhaustive list of newspaper mastheads in the questionnaire, when the respondent has already reached a fatigue level, there is little truth to the responses. Therefore, ideally, a separate mechanism to capture magazine data.”
“Secondly, re-visit the definition of average issue readership and not define it by mechanical time periods. At present, for every change in frequency of a magazine from monthly to fortnightly to weekly, the time period for being counted as average issue reader drops by half. This is a very mechanical approach, which doesn’t keep cognizance of behavioural aspects of giving responses. How many respondents will correctly remember whether they read a magazine in last month or a fortnight? The question should, therefore, be worded to seek whether a reader regularly reads a particular magazine or not, rather than put in strictly defined mechanical terms.”
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