Readership, in fact, measurement of any kind, is quite a passionate subject with me. It always gets my complete attention and I find every aspect of it mesmerising. So, when the industry had National Readership Survey (NRS) and Indian Readership Survey (IRS) both active – till not very long ago, but looks like ages now – I was amongst those journalists who would have the famous ‘field day’. The comparison of data, discussion of anomalies and the subsequent action from the NRSC or the MRUC (very rare in the case of MRUC, I must admit) – all put together, meant action-packed weeks.
The last NRS was out in the year 2006. The round had seen more than its share of errors and the release of revised data. Then, the NRS missed the next round – not surprising, it had happened in the past. But it was unexpected, when in 2009, three years had flown by, and there was no sign of the NRSC. Finally, in mid-2009 some action was visible – the NRSC was close to finalising an agency and beginning the survey once again. But even before anything fructified on that, the big news of the IRS-NRS merger came in August 2009.
All looked right. Given the changes in the industry, such a concerted effort was required. Someone like me saw all the positives of a move like that, and from then, I patiently waited to see what the gen next of print data would be like.
Why gen next? The Indian print industry has seen growth that one only imagined. With that, came many new challenges. The Indian print market is one of the few in the world that can still boast of growth, and this meant that in the last many years, new titles – both in dailies and periodicals, Indian and international – were added to the industry. The Indian reader is changing, and so are the media consumption habits. Digital is making its presence felt in the print domain too. I, for instance, read all my dailies, online. And, these are changes that will only become stronger with time.
The current print measurement system in India takes no note of these changes. The IRS would continue to have a very disgruntled set of users in the magazine publishers. And even in the dailies, there are those who challenge the data every round. For an average media planner/ buyer, none of the other IRS offerings mean much at the time.
The situation is sad because the IRS is the only survivor measurement system we have. The Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) has not been able to take the industry steps that would educate and play up the importance of industry circulation numbers. Many publications prefer doing commissioned surveys from the likes of Ernst & Young and choose to tom-tom that with the advertisers. The NRSC has not done the best of jobs when it was active, and has yet not been able to recover from the problems it faced four years back.
So in all, it is the IRS that has managed to stay afloat. The data is now quarterly, which is a huge positive step, and the IRS has managed to be able to follow that deadline as well. But if the industry has as many problems with the IRS, as are discussed in forums and industry platforms, it is an indicator that there are many areas that the IRS must pay attention to, and there is no luxury of time now. Therefore, the IRS-NRS merged entity was the ideal situation. The combined might and intellect of the industry together to bring out one robust, credible system.
But the progress on this was disheartening at the start. After a year of the merged data being announced, the industry didn’t have anything to show for it. Things have changed in the last few months, but they have not yet moved enough to see any concrete action.
Some positives of the last few months are that the differences that had surfaced between the two bodies – NRSC and MRUC – seem to have been addressed now, or are in the process of being addressed. The INS, AAAI and other bodies are taking steps to ensure that the intentions of the merged data do not fail, so industry thought leaders are doing the needful.
But the one thing I think is still missing is a deadline. The merged entity cannot be delayed anymore, so the industry must give itself a time frame. Another three or four months, anything, but some date to be chased. In addition to a deadline, the industry must also contemplate an alternate plan of action. If the data is not out within the deadline given, then what? Perhaps the INS, AAAI, MRUC have already decided on a deadline and the alternate plan if the deadline is not met. These are not plans they would want to discuss with the media or perhaps even with all the industry members as well. But if they have, my only hope is that print measurement in 2011 is not still facing the same setbacks and questions that it did in 2006-07-08-09&10.
I do hope 2011 would be about a new generation of measurement that would help the industry grow not only for the traditional side of print as we have known it for years, but also recognise the evolution of the medium, and be able to help future growth as well.
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