Worldwide Readership Symposium 2005, Written by Manfred Mareck, Research Marketing Ltd
Over 200 leading media research executives from 30 countries gathered in Prague this October for the 12th Worldwide Readership Research Symposium. First held in New Orleans in 1981 the Symposium is the brainchild of Dawn Mitchell, former head of Ipsos-RSL (now Ipsos Mori) and sponsored by the KMR Group and Ipsos UK.
To many delegates, readership research seems to have a rather narrow focus, namely to provide reliable and robust data on the audience size delivered by individual newspapers and magazines – in other words it is about the various national readership surveys that serve as a currency between buyers and vendors of advertising space. Against this narrow focus we have a broader approach demanded by media agencies and advertisers who acknowledge the continuous need for some sort of basic currency but at the same time want to see the develop of new metrics. It was a welcome move by Andy Brown, ceo of BMRB when he decided to invite a panel of advertising researchers to present ideas from their perspective and broaden the approach from counting readers to include concepts such as engagement and advertising impact.
More Currencies then ever
Erhard Meier, the programme chairman listed 91 national readership surveys from 71 countries plus 60 other studies that serve as currencies for specific population segments, such as business or pan-regional surveys. Progress has been made especially in Africa where the concept of the South African ‘All Media and Product Study’ has been exported to nine major Sub-Saharan markets. A major plus is that these surveys can be used for local market information but they can also be combined to a pan African media and consumer study.
Response rates continue to be of concern in many parts of the world and different solutions are being tested. They include more attractive (monetary) incentives, using more than one data collection method, attempts to reduce title lists and thus interview length (not very successful as presentations from the UK and Germany demonstrated), or switching from random to quota sampling.
Despite a generally conservative approach some research organisations are beginning to look further ahead, none more so than Mediamark Research (now part of GfK) in the US, who announced that they had signed an agreement with a technology specialist to explore passive readership measurement using RFID technology. Before anybody gets too excited, apart from a long list of technical and legal (e.g. privacy concerns) issues, costs may be the real stumbling block. A weekly magazine with a print run of one million copies would face a bill of more than €2million a year to insert RFID tags into every copy. Still, with other media such as TV, Radio and Outdoor actively exploring passive measurement systems it is good to see that Print is showing an interest as well.
Other worthwhile attempts to improve the current print currencies come from Belgium and The Netherlands. Central to current readership surveys is the measure of? ‘average issue’ readership, based on recent reading claims, which can lead to all kinds of problems with overclaims. Intomart-GfK in the Netherlands is addressing this problem with SIR, a specific issue readership survey, conducted online, which may in future be incorporated into NOM, the Dutch print currency. In neighbouring Belgium, Sanoma Magazines are using a diary method (developed by Peter Masson of Masson & Bucknall) to establish the speed with which an issue builds its total audience, similar to audience velocity studies in the US and UK. The Belgian approach goes even further by measuring time spent reading and the proportion of pages read on each reading occasion. This provides an additional measure of average page exposure. It is still a long way from actual advertising exposure (as reported for TV commercials) but considerably better than the current magazine (i.e. vehicle) exposure, from which Print calculates its OTS (opportunity to see) scores. If adopted by CIM, the Belgium readership survey will get magazines closer to Weekly Advertising Ratings.
Other sessions of the Symposium focused on various technical issues, such as response rates, the impact of online versions of magazines and newspapers on reported readership levels, title confusion and its impact in audience size and how to measure daily fluctuations in newspaper readership. Special sessions focused on the role of Print in today’s multi-media world and a detailed study by The New York Times and Scarborough Research on the impact of free newspapers on circulation levels of paid-for titles in Boston, Chicago, Dallas and New York. Their findings seem to indicate that the Free Newspapers do not necessarily cannibalise paid readership but free papers haven’t been around long enough to show whether or not their readers (mainly younger people) will eventually ‘convert’ to a paid-for title, something many newspaper publishers are hoping for.
Currency research will remain important but it cannot be the sole focus of readership research any longer. Advertisers and their agencies have made it very clear they need news ways to evaluate impact and engagement. The challenge now is to decide how best to allocate scarce resources to develop new measures without damaging the scope and quality of the existing currencies.
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