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Australia Not adding up: a few impossible things about newspaper readership

13:16  25 november  2021
13:16  25 november  2021 Source:   crikey.com.au

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Australia’s newspapers (in both analogue and digital form) have been all a-twitter this week, fluffing up their feathers and preening their plumage as they lean heavily into the latest readership figures from Roy Morgan Research.

  Not adding up: a few impossible things about newspaper readership © Provided by Crikey

In The Australian, it’s “readership surges in both print and digital formats” to historic highs of 5.44 million over four weeks. In its key competitor, The Australian Financial Review, it’s “record highs as its digital-exclusive readership grows” to 3.5 million.

What do they want you to take away? We’ve got bazillions of readers. Are you feeling the FOMO already?

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The reporting on the figures shows that, like Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen, they’re all quite capable of believing more than a few impossible things before breakfast:

  • LIke something out of Escher’s impossibilist school of journalism, each of them are apparently doing better than each other
  • In a challenge to mathematics, reported readership figures are seriously out of whack with the number of paying subscribers
  • Contrary to neoclassical theories of elasticity, the harder the paywall, the higher the price, the more readers they seem to get.

It all ends up somewhere between “preposterous” and “fishy” according to Unmade’s Tim Burrowes this week. Sure, the figures may be “correct” — reflecting the industry standard research results — and reported accurately (with a few relevant omissions), but they tell us very little about what’s actually happening in Australia’s media.

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Unfortunately, they’re just about all we’ve got. This week’s masthead exultations come off the back of the readership analysis by Roy Morgan Research, its second quarter since they won the field for themselves after the industry axed its internal metric Enhanced Media Metrics Australia (or EMMA) back in April.

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Australia’s newspapers abandoned the tough measures of the Audit Bureau of Circulation as print subscriptions spiralled down in the 2010s. Delaware-based News Corp reports internal figures of its major Australian mastheads in its 10-K, the annual report to its regulator, the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

Its latest report quoted “internal sources” to support combined print and digital subscriber figures of 242,103 for The Australian and a total 549,230 across its four big tabloids. Nine releases sporadic figures which suggest combined print and digital subscriptions of about 500,000 for its three mastheads.

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Alternatively, there’s the Nielsen Digital Content Ratings for news and current affairs, which releases a monthly top ten. This has the unfortunate outcome for the commercial broadcasters of demonstrating the digital strength of ABC News — highest number of monthly unique visitors, most time on site, most number of repeat visits.

This week’s readership figures — like other marketing surveys — come by asking an average of 5500 people what news they read and where they read it. Looks like the claimed boost to record/historic highs comes off the shift in process from a mix of the old EMMA and Nielsen ratings (which, the News Corp’s last end-of-year report, for example, says gave The Australian 4.7 million readers).

Diving into the figures reaffirms what advertisers have long believed: readership numbers are bunk — that’s why they long insisted on audited circulation figures they could trust. It’s why they now rely on ad-tech (for all its flaws) to make sure they’re reaching the audience they want.

They know what the Nielsen data shows: the overwhelming majority of these millions of readers claimed by each masthead would have read (or think they may have read) just one story a month — maybe not even on the paywalled website. Perhaps they simply saw a snippet as they scrolled past on Facebook or Twitter.

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The number of regular daily readers identified in the survey (e.g. 495,000 for The Australian) broadly aligns with subscription numbers, suggesting that the long-term newspaper rule of thumb still holds: each subscriber delivers an average of two to three readers. That’s worth something to the publishers — it’s part of their value proposition to charge what they do (which, in Australia, is at the upper end of global pricing).

Still, it demonstrates a monthly to daily percentage conversion of under 10%. By comparison, advertising competitor Meta Inc (formerly Facebook) claims to convert irregular monthly uses into daily uses at an average of 80% across its family of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

The post Not adding up: a few impossible things about newspaper readership appeared first on Crikey.

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