Is there any reason for newspapers to provide more detailed print circulation metrics, or are they just another stick for ad buyers to beat the press with?
Trinity Mirror released its first set of monthly ABCs for its regional titles on Friday, rather than the traditional biannual release, and the picture isn't pretty.
Eight of the 14 titles recorded a circulation fall of more than 10 percent in May per issue compared to the average for the second half of 2012, including all three Sunday editions.
Just one, the Birmingham Mail, recorded a circulation rise, managing to tip the scales at 0.8 percent on H212. Next month will provide the first month-on-month stats, but don't expect the picture to be all that much healthier.
It can't be a good idea put more bad figures in front of a business's main clients on a more regular basis can it?
A more holistic approach
But maybe this is about the bigger picture. Digital stats will soon be added to these reports and Trinity CEO Simon Fox has called this shift part of a wider focus on better metrics across platforms. He isn't the only person leading the transition of newspapers to digital who think that the lack of serious metrics is a serious barrier.
As we reported, Fox told the Shift conference in April: "We urgently need robust and rigorous ways of describing cross-platform. NRS PADD is a good start. However, even this excludes mobile and tablet. If we are to be successful in migrating to a digital world, this must be a priority."
Revealing monthly declines isn't going to do print ad sales any favours - but bringing all the different metrics into closer alignment is necessary to develop a more holistic approach to approaching advertisers.
Meeting KPIs requires a better data trail
It's not just publishers who are dealing with this conundrum - ad buyers clearly want better metrics too. Omnicom Media Group CEO for EMEA Colin Gottlieb told the Media360 conference last week that ad agencies risk falling behind if they stick to 30-year-old metrics.
MediaWeek reports that he called for a debate "to establish proper media metrics and how those media metrics relate to business KPIs."
The UK is pre-eminent in media. As an island we are massively into ecommerce and that's why companies like Google are very interested in us.
But I am worried about media agencies. For every single pitch, we have to supply baseline information to audit firms, which operate with no relevance to real-time marketing and ecommerce, and the ecosystem that we face.
It's not easy, but we need to crack that, otherwise the UK will go forward in a strong position, but the UK media agency scene will stay locked in a time warp because the benchmarks are frankly arcane and way out of date.
As advertisers get more sensitive about drawing direct links between their spend and results, media companies need to get better at proving effectiveness - even if that means being more honest about circulation falls.
Connecting six-monthly circulation figures to KPIs is no more ludicrous that not being able to tell an ad buyer whether the same person is reading your site on a mobile device or a PC. Neither is going to allow publishers to draw the direct lines between ad spend and impact they will increasingly need to attract advertisers.
There has been real change in media metrics in the UK these last six months. ABC partnered with PwC to provide multiplatform metric reports for B2B publishers; the National Readership Survey added digital stats to its PADD report for the first time and mobile stats are on the way to both.
But is it enough?