Readership surveys in India are proving to be a problem area for the industry. Despite its checks and accuracy measures, the National Readership Survey had enough anomalies last year to issue a second data CD. At present, the National Readership Studies Council has invited research agencies, and a decision has yet not been taken on who would undertake the research work for NRS this year.
In the case of Indian Readership Survey, there is widespread distress since the IRS has been showing round on round. To see some trends, IRS 2005 Round 2 showed an increase in almost all publications. However, come 2006 Round 1, the decline begins.
The only exceptions were Hindustan, ABP, Amar Ujala, Dinamalar, Sandesh and Punjab Kesari. Round 2, 2006, showed further decline and the only exceptions were Rajasthan Patrika, ABP and Dinakaran. Unfortunately, 2007 Round 1 took most publications another step down, bringing readership of publications like Bhaskar and Jagran to what they were in 2005. The only publications to buck the trend in 2007 were Rajasthan Patrika and Dinakaran.
The IRS is operating in much the same manner that it was. So why should be the publisher fraternity have any problems now? Paresh Nath, Publisher and President, Delhi Press, and Vice President, Indian Newspaper Society, explained with a simple analogy. He said, “It is like exams. When only 10 per cent students fail, people don’t say anything; but when 90 per cent fail, you question the examination. How can people just stop reading? Most of the figures for top publications have dropped, and in a six month period, it is unbelievable.”
Logically, readership should grow
Giving a perspective here, he said, “According to our estimates, readership is on an increase, and is increasing — the population is increasing and so is the literacy rate. So logically, readership should increase.”
I Venkat, Director, Eenadu, added here, “There is no reason for readership to be on the decline. Readers are increasing and so is readership. We have newspapers that are priced at Rs 3 and Rs 3.50 and the circulation is only increasing. I don’t think people will buy for that kind of price and not read it.”
Bhaskar Group’s Bharat Kapadia agreed that with every parameter that leads to readership increasing, it is only logical that readership should increase.
The IRS Situation
Publishers are in talks with the Media Research User’s Council for a revisit to readership surveys and their methodologies in India. At present, there is a clear situation where both publishers and MRUC are talking on what the way forward should be. From sources in the know of the situation, the parties have “taken a stand”, but the discussions are progressive.
Nath voices at least one aspect of the problem. He said, “One of the reasons why readership surveys are not presenting an accurate picture can be because the questions on readership comes after 27 pages of questions, where surveyors have shown masthead of 600 publications in one go.”
A point that Nath raises here is that when survey results show 19 out of top 20 publications dropping, back checks should be done. He said, “A decline like this is questionable. MRUC should question the industry, and back checks should’ve been done. Nothing of that sort has been done, that is worrying all publications.”
He added, “I can’t understand why a brand of shampoo is asked about in a readership survey — we don’t see any logic. I can understand lifestyle and demographics, but brands – how can that be related to the readers?”
Where Nath has clearly stated some of the flaws he notices in the system, Kapadia presents a whole picture. He said, “Publishers and research agencies are talking, and this is a very serious issue. For the larger welfare of the industry, a solution should be arrived at and both parties should approach it with an open mind.”