Update 14/9: Scroll down for a comment from Jerry Wright, CEO of the ABC. He points out that the online metric ABC measure is unique browsers over a month, not unique browsing sessions. I'm happy to correct that but if anything that makes the difference between the ABC and NRS figures even more stark.
What if the audience of newspaper and magazine websites was far lower than publishers and advertisers think and far lower than the industry standard ABC figure?
That’s the reality facing the content industry this morning as new data from the National Readership Survey, for the first time, shows the total online and print readership of some of the country’s best known media brands.
For the first time the NRS – which is extensively used by media planners to plot their clients’ campaigns – includes Nielsen/UKOM data showing total monthly readership of both print titles and websites. The data may potentially reverse several long-held assumptions about the media economy, most notably the idea that big increases in usage has led to increases in total audience and the relationship between titles’ print and online properties
There are several fascinating things about these stats – Scroll down for the full data but firstly here are my seven takeaway findings:
The size of online audiences has been way overestimated in comparison to print
– Take for example that mighty scourge of liberal England, the Daily Mail which according to NRS had an average monthly print readership of 14.12 million between April 2011 and March 2012, but online at DailyMail.co.uk it had a monthly reach of 6.85 million. That’s quite a climbdown from its ABC figure of 34.7 million unique browsing sessions in the UK in July. According to NRS, one of the most celebrated UK news websites is dwarfed by its print counterpart in terms of audience.
– Although recent coverage had it that the Mail Online reached more than 100 million “browsers” last month, it almost certainly did not: it may well have clocked up 100 million browsing sessions, but not individual users.
– Or take Telegraph Media Group, an early mover in the digital transition with a good 15 years of online innovation behind it. The NRS says its print readership is almost exactly the same as the number of visitors to Telegraph.co.uk per month. It’s a print audience of 5.24 million per month, versus 5.39 million for the website. Which leads on to…
Web and print audiences are sometimes separate, sometimes not
– The assumption has been for while now that newspapers’ websites gives them a lot bigger reach than print alone – the NRS now puts that in perspective. The Daily and Sunday Mirror titles plus the People, for example, clock up 12.11 million print readers a month. When you add in Mirror.co.uk that only adds 1.43 million to the total audience. That could mean a lot of Mirror.co.uk readers also buy the paper.
– For the Daily Star, only 333,000 extra readers are added per month with the inclusion of DailyStar.co.uk.
– The Times will be significantly less bothered by these metrics now that it’s charging for its digital products, but if in case anyone’s interested it managed a reach of 5.52 million readers per month and just 295,000 online – Thetimes.co.uk accounted for a net addition of 213,000 readers.
This isn’t news to everyone
In today’s NRS figures, the Mail’s nemesis the Guardian has a monthly print average of 4.8 million, but just 6.4 million visitors to Guardian.co.uk. But this might not shock the Guardian, which commissioned its own research in June this year from Kantar showing that the combined, de-duped audience of the Guardian, the Observer and Guardian.co.uk was 5.8 million, which is comparable to the NRS total reach figure of 9.5 million.
The publishers have all seen these figures in advance too, ahead of today's embargoed release.
What’s going on here?
The reason for the discrepancy between these figures and others? The ABC measures “unique browsers browsing sessions” (see the note from ABC CEO Jerry Wright below). The NRS claims to have built a map of readership based on actual people. Nielsen/UKOM data – which isn’t favoured by all publishers and advertisers – compiled the figures from a panel of 75,000 web users with tracking software installed on their computers.
Those ABC figures that show those big numbers? It turns out that’s measuring devices not people.
Is this good news for newspapers?
Newsworks, the body formerly known as the Newspaper Marketing Agency, is predictably upbeat about the figures, saying they prove newspaper brands reach 22.2 million UK adults, or 44 percent of the adult population, every day.
Positively, the figures show more than a third of 15- to 24-year-olds read newspapers on a daily basis.
All good tub-thumping stuff. But if you listen to Claire Enders, who is working from Ofcom data, she estimates that print media will go from taking up seven percent of the average UK adult’s time in 2005 to three percent in 2015. It may well be true that some have unduly doubted the strength of print media’s reach but that the time Britons spend reading newspaper is shrinking is beyond doubt.
What about consumer magazines?
– Some magazine have genuinely impressive reach online and in print. BBC Good Food, with a reach of 1.27 million in print, welcomes 1.82 million people to its website each month on average…
– But the figures show just how print-dependent so many are. Hello! magazine (don’t call it a celeb mag), boasts 4.14 million readers a month in print but just 167,000 online, for example. The country’s biggest-selling actively purchased magazine Radio Times has an unassailable position at the upper regions of the ABC tables but has 3.14 million readers a month according to NRS. Online it adds 470,000 readers to its total monthly audience.
What does all this mean?
If anything, it means that the ABC figures – which are commonly reported on media websites to represent total audience – should now be seen in a different light. Undoubtedly, some publishers will challenge this NRS data and offer reasons why their online figures are so low – some may have a point. They wouldn’t be the first to doubt the Nielsen/UKOM methodology.
But it might just be that the digital migration isn’t going as fast as some of us think, that the public’s reliance on print for news and entertainment is stronger in real terms than we might have assumed. Of course, this doesn’t change the business model realities, that print is diminishing in terms of advertising and circulation.
While it might signal caution, for some some it should spark some urgent innovation.
All NRS figures are monthly estimates. The NRS conducts six rounds of face-to-face interviews each year for its print data and the online data is compiled by Nielsen/UKOM who track the behaviour of 75,000 people. Before anyone asks, mobile and tablet measurement is coming to these NRS updates in the medium-term future, but NRS is kind of hampered by the amount of data that publishers want to release, so watch this space.
Here's the full data:
Jerry Wright, CEO of the ABC, told TheMediaBriefing:
"We are always keen to see more transparency through reporting data to industry-agreed standards, so the PADD initiative by NRS, which fuses its own print readership data with the UKOM on-line panel data, should provide valuable, new information for all.
"As has been the case for many years, the industry needs both circulation and readership data to fully inform the planning and trading of advertising and this is true of both the print and digital markets.
"In particular, the digital world is seeing ever greater fragmentation as media owners and content distributors continue to create a plethora of new platforms for different devices, locations, audiences etc.
"These can be difficult to break out on a panel, even those with a large sample base. Media planners and buyers need to work with and use both census-based and research-based survey tools in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of audiences and readership. ABC’s census-based approach, based on independently auditing data to industry agreed standards across each individual platform (be it a web-site, tablet app, digital publication, e-mail campaign)ensures that information at the right level of granularity is available, such as certifying unique daily browsers on a daily, weekly and monthly reporting period.
"And to be clear ‘unique browsers’ is what we certify, not ‘unique browsing sessions’ as suggested above. (There is an additional metric for ‘visits’ but that is a different measure that records the total number of visits to a web-site across a given period, which would include multiple visits by the same browser.)
Image via NS Newsflash on Flickr via a Creative Commons Licence.