The current readership survey methodologies in India have raised several eyebrows, with many publishers questioning the authenticity of these surveys. The National Readership Survey (NRS) has not been around for over a year now, and the Indian Readership Survey (IRS) has even been taken to court by a few publications. Research is not a subject that everyone agrees on, especially people whose business prosperity depends on the results, but research methodology in India is the same that was around a couple of decades back. Now, that is a problem.
Many industry leaders have stated that despite the print medium having seen a paradigm shift, there is no change in the way readership is measured in the country. Nonetheless, on the other side there are representatives of the current research mechanism, who feel that the survey tools at offer are completely contextual and that they serve all purposes.
While Average Issue Readership (AIR) has been the traditional norm of measurement, Total Readership (TR) was an official terminology that publishers could refer to, which was introduced in 2006 to reflect readership on a broader scale. The thought process behind such a move looked valid then, with the tool having the ability to reflect total readership of all newspapers, including supplements and other add-ons. Also, the average issue readership was on a fragmenting trend with the increase in number of publications in India. The consumer was no longer loyal to one brand.
There have been three rounds since, when TR figures have been put up in IRS. Primarily, it has been around as ‘Claimed Readership’, which forms the basis for incremental reach calculations.
Disparity in thoughts
Rajiv Jaitly, President-Marketing and Ad Sales, Dainik Bhaskar, believes that the new terminology (TR) is causing some confusion in the industry.
“Having released the TR figures, but withholding frequency distribution data, means it is difficult to hazard a guess on the exact nature of the relationship between TR and AIR,” he pointed out.
He stressed that AIR needed complete redefining and wondered, “If all other measurements in radio or TV have come to sorts, why is it that the print industry is sticking with the same age-old traditional measurement, not taking cognizance of the changes?”
DD Purkayastha, CEO, ABP Pvt Ltd, too, believes that all methodologies need to be reviewed in course of time with changing context. He said, “The media scenario in India has undergone major changes in the recent past, and as such, the methodology to measure readership needs a re-look.”
Varghese Chandy, Senior General Manager, Marketing Operations, Malayala Manorama, and Chairman-Working Group, National Readership Studies Council, has a different opinion. He believes that AIR is the universal unit for readership measurement, and that it should be the guiding factor for decision making for media planners as well as publishers.
According to Chandy, “Attempt should be to convert Claimed Readership (CR) to AIR. But for all comparisons and decision-making AIR should be used, since the number of insertions required to reach CR will differ from publications to publications, whereas AIR is meant for one insertion. Of late, there has been a tendency to use CR increasingly by readership councils and publishers. From a classical evaluation perspective, this should be discouraged.”
MRUC members back prevailing methodology
Amit Ray, Chief Strategy Officer, BAG Films & Media, was the person who was instrumental in introducing TR in 2006. He is also advisor to MRUC on print research. Ray believes that both TR and AIR are highly contextual, with both having their importance in measuring readership in the country. He raises a strong question and argues that people in the industry raise their voice only when they see a dip in the readership numbers of their publications. “My answer to them is that IRS is just a diagnostic research, it doesn’t probe into digging out reasons as to why a person does not read a newspaper,” he pointed out.
But with both TR and AIR, doesn’t it get difficult to ascertain the true value of a publication? “The entire industry is questioning this, and the only answer that I have for this is, as I have also mentioned earlier, that both TR and AIR are extremely important and each tool has its importance,” Ray further said.
Sabina Solomon, General Manager, MRUC, too, believes in the current measurement mechanism. “I don’t think there is a problem in the survey. Every survey, whether it’s a readership survey or any other, there will always be scope for improvement. And so is the case with IRS,” she maintained.
Sampling issue, something to lookout for
Dainik Bhaskar’s Jaitly pointed out that errors in the sampling process were a problem due to the inability of syndicated surveys to maintain high levels of sampling sizes with the economic progress trickling down to semi-urban and rural markets. Further citing problems, he said, “Also, the frequency of surveys and the practice of over-lapping field-work periods do not take into account the frenetic pace at which print editions are growing, thus disguising ground reality.”
Speaking at the recently held Indian National Congress 2008, an event organised by the Indian Newspaper Society in collaboration with exchange4media, Suresh Balakrishnan, COO, Mail Today, had also pointed that the sample representation in SEC A was inadequate and should be improved substantially.
Bringing about a dialogue
There are different minds that think differently in the industry, and thus, there are differences of opinions on the readership methodology. How to get them thinking on similar lines is a great matter of concern for the industry.
With the given differences, what seems is interesting is that the industry agrees to having a dialogue and looking for a solution that could be comprehensive.
However, BAG Films’ Ray is clueless as to when an industry dialogue is possible. But he did share his last thoughts on the subject, saying, “All the stakeholders, including the publishers, have to come together and get cracking on the issues. When and how, I don’t know.”
MRUC’s Solomon suggests focusing on a single currency. “Everybody should focus on one research only. By doing so, we can ensure that the funds are concentrated under one currency, and thereby ensure that benefits with the support of the industry, otherwise it becomes a monopolistic kind of situation, like the television research system in the country today,” she observed.
The bottomline is that the industry needs to act in a collaborative manner. It is up to the industry to decide whether it should all be on the same table or should be addressed in different modular fashion.