Audit Bureau of Circulation had undertaken a special initiative for media planners to bring out the importance of circulation data's role alongside readership data. The bureau's officials and Sundeep Nagpal, Director, Stratagem Media who presented the session addressed various kinds of questions around the ABC data to bring more clarity in the planner's mind in regards to the usage of the data.
The present state-of-affairs
Unlike readership, where the industry has access to two different surveys, in the case of circulation, ABC is the sole provider. Time and again, the industry has pointed out aspects about various policies of ABC that have not only led magazines like 'India Today' and 'Outlook' to walk out of the survey but also disqualified the Gujarat print players like 'Divya Bhaskar', 'Gujarat Samachar' and 'Sandesh' from ABC certification.
A basic problem that many see is in the rules that require these publications to maintain a certain manner of operating in aspects like trade margins and the likes. "There are flaws with these rules," pointed Bharat Kapadia, Executive Director, Divya Bhaskar, "Gujarat market is so competitive. Price wars and promotional activities are a part of staying ahead of competition. Why should they be seen as a problem!"
However, ABC has a different view on this. ABC Dy Chairman Kurush Grant explained, "We are not police, we are audit. Circulation is an important parameter for any media plan and we are trying to reflect the quality of readership as well. If someone gets a copy free, chances are that it is going to the waste basket in comparison to someone who pays for a publication. This is the prime reason behind these guidelines."
The differences of opinions in the industry, publications missing out on ABC certification for varied reasons has led to the stage where media planners are getting comfortable on relying on the data that is easily available and basing their decisions on that. Necessarily a situation that needs tackling. On being asked how this initiative would change the current scenario, Lintas Media Director, Lynn de Souza said, "So far, planners have not even asked for an ABC certificate and hence publications have not taken it as seriously as they should. At least this will bring in awareness and professionals would ask for data that would build up a certain pressure. I think this is a good beginning."
In the session that was addressed by Sundeep Nagpal, Director, Stratagem Media, the bureau not only explained more about circulation data, its application and usage but also shared rationales behind some of its policies. Nagpal began with explaining to the audience, which largely consisted of media planners, various aspects about circulation data and ABC.
Nagpal began with the role of print in any media plan as a primary medium and inception of ABC. With that, he moved on to the modus operandi of ABC explaining clauses that qualify what part of any publication's sales can be taken as net paid sales. He informed, "ABC certifies net paid sales. While in dailies a trade margin of 40 per cent is allowed, in magazines 45 per cent is allowed. Also the bureau has injected new clauses for institutional selling and subscription based selling."
With a comprehensive explanation on this, he moved on to a comparison of circulation data and readership data and the importance of both. He shared examples that reflected how a certain change in target specification would mean a change in the ratio between circulation and readership.
He also explained more on the readership methodology. Pointing out an aspect that can be dangerous about the survey, he said, "This is a sample based study, governed by mast head familiarity and hence can be influenced by promotional campaigns."
In this context he brought out the importance of readers per copy (RPC), which could prove to be a good check of the available readership and circulation numbers. He ended the session saying, "Exercise caution in non-ABC cases. Insist on ABC certificates and always examine difference with RPC."
A few points that the audience brought out in the course of the session was that a three year data period should be made available on the ABC website. Also, the data should be compatible to Excel formats so that processing the data would become simpler.