Finally, newspaper publishers have dropped the pretence that
their industry was somehow different to other parts of the media when it came
to measuring performance.

For years they’ve resisted attempts to extract more
than the most basic information on circulations and readership. It’s been a defence based on hypocrisy.

For
years newspapers have gleefully reported on the ups and
downs, failures and successes of television networks, programs and
personalities, based on the comprehensive and five days a week flow of
ratings
information from the networks themselves.

But the publishers of the same newspapers have for years
claimed that they just couldn’t supply any more timely information on their
sales and readership to advertisers and others. At the moment there are two six
monthly circulation audits conducted by the Audit Bureau of Circulations and
the readership surveys conducted by Roy Morgan.

It would have been too hard, not very informative. In fact
they have argued, it could be misleading. And of course, costly.

This little con job was undermined in April when magazine
publishers agreed to improve the flow of circulation data to make it more
timely and relevant to advertisers.

That meant the magazines would have had a better chance of
improving their share of advertising from agencies and their clients with a
more up to date flow of information on performance.

With all the major newspaper groups now in the market with a
growing fleet of glossy magazine inserts, the publishers would have been
exposed in what has been the only growth area in advertising for them in the
past few years. Job advertising – classified and display – as well as other
classifieds and general display ads have stagnated or been falling as
the internet and direct mail have snagged more and more business.

Helping the change of attitude in magazines was the common
ownership of the two biggest publishers, ACP and Pacific, with two of the major
TV networks, Nine and Seven.

So Fairfax and News Ltd were left isolated and late last
week come into the tent to avoid being carved up by advertisers and their
advisers over the paucity of data about circulation and readership.

From now on new ways of working out newspaper readerships
will be tested and applied to the different parts of the papers, the plethora of
magazine inserts and run of press inserts, as well as the differing sections in
the paper. Secondary and tertiary readership figures will be attempted, perhaps
the biggest grey area in working out readership statistics.

This will have particular impact on the Australian Financial
Review which, because of its circulation in offices and business places, claims
to have very high levels of secondary and tertiary readership.

Also of interest to advertisers is just how many and what
sort of people read these new magazines in papers such as the Financial Review,
Sydney Morning Herald and the Weekend Herald and Australian.

And the newspaper publishers have agreed to release audited
circulation figures four times a year and to try and improve the
analysis of this information and explanations for changes.

What of course would be very handy is for the publishers to
produce readership surveys four times a year based on the actual circulation
periods. That way actual sales as well as primary, secondary and tertiary
readership can be tracked and compared.

A sort of very crude
version of the way that TV ratings are carried out each and every day of the
week.

But the concessions from the Newspaper publishers are only a
start for advertisers and others. There’s a long way to go before the
Princes of Print can deliver to their advertisers the sorts of information and
marketing tools that the Emperors of TV already do.

The Princes say their advertisers and agencies don’t need
all the information, but the agencies and advertisers reply that how do the
publishers know because up till now the information produced has been
inadequate and sometimes useless.

But the real argument is over costs, just as it is in
television. Perhaps the publishers and advertisers can pop around to the free to
air networks and have a chat about the way the Oztam ratings are paid for and
distributed.

But then many of the advertisers already have the
information and can tell News and Fairfax just what is the real story on costs.

The wheel doesn’t have to be re-invented, just modified for
a different model.

But you can bet News and Fairfax will drag the chain and
argue and argue on costs trying to delay the release of more information.

Why? Well for a group of businesses that routinely call for
more disclosure, better performance and greater efficiency in government and
other parts of business, newspapers are notoriously shy about giving any hint
about how efficient they are. Disclosure is negligible and transparency almost
nil.

Television tried it for years and failed. Newspapers have
had the gall to pull the swifty for much longer.

Fairfax and News know that if they don’t play, then there’s
a danger there won’t be as much pay in future years as magazines and TV, which
provide more information, attract greater shares of the advertising dollar.

Doesn’t take an MBA to work that one out, Fred Hilmer!

Peter Fray

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