Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Don’t trust readership surveys.

Whenever someone from within journalism writes on readership surveys the first response is to accuse the writer of having an ‘interest’ in the piece. Your result was very good or very bad, otherwise you won’t write. But, I am not because our results are bad but because surveys are extremely flawed, and I will use the example not of the publication I work for but for the publication which claims to be our ‘biggest’ rival.
Let us call this magazine W. Now, in the first survey that came out a couple of months ago, W had a readership of around 650K. They promptly proclaimed themselves #1 in their space (albeit by a very small margin) and didn’t give a damn that deeper digging into the results showed that almost three-quarters of their readers didn’t ‘own’ their copies. Anyway, it has to be said that their product is better than what it was earlier, and they had made significant gains. That said, the organizers of the first survey claim that there might have been a sampling error regarding us.
But, the surprise came in the second survey. My publication, which we will call T saw readership quite similar to the first survey, in fact more or less the same, which kinda works. W on the other hand saw the second survey give it a readership of 240K and a third magazine, which I will call I saw readership go from 300K in one survey to 500K in another. Now, these two results made me become very skeptical of surveys, not that I wasn’t earlier. But a 400,000 variation is a bit weird for anyone.
I mean, there are broad trends can be sensed from reading survey numbers – magazines are steady (slightly down), ET is declining even more (which says a lot about the product) and at least one business daily claims to have a circulation higher than its readership in BOTH surveys – now that as someone described was akin to someone shutting their eyes, buying the papers and then cleaning their bums after a shit. Even though, I can pretty much testify from personal experience that newsprint is a very bad substitute for TP.
Anyway, the problem therefore is what can you trust? Which survey can you trust? I mean in Delhi, one survey says ToI leads by 100K another gives HT a similar lead. The problem is that surveys tend to be conducted by a bunch of idiots, who put up logos and ask you if you have read that particular publication at all in the previous XX months. While that works for a magazine, even if I happened to read a particular paper once in three months, and that too not out of choice, I will be counted as a reader, I don’t think that is very accurate, would you?
Anyway, at the end of the day, my publication pulls in two-thirds of all the ad-revenue in the segment, so really readership surveys or not, we make a ton of money and as someone said, that is what really matters right now. But, honestly, there needs to be a significant overhul in the way readership surveys are conducted in India, firstly I believe that we should have one independent survey rather than two 'competing' surveys and there also needs to be a major overhaul of the methodology, so that large widespread marketing and advertising campaigns which are timed to coincide with surveys get negated. Anyway, these are just my two little itsy-bitsy paise on the topic.
On another note, traffic has collapsed all over Delhi today, I'm still sitting in office too scared to face the traffic.

1 comment:

Bonatellis said...

why dont you start using your real name, you are not leaving anything to imagination :)