With News Corp’s decision to pull its papers out of the circulation audit this week, it is once again speaking with a forked tongue when it comes to the measurement of newspapers and magazines. Just look at what the three main arms of the Murdoch family controlled company are doing in their three main markets — the US, UK and Australia.
News’ decision follows the withdrawal of most magazine publishers from the Audited Media Association of Australia measure last year, and Fairfax withdrawing its digital data as well. And it means that while their publications call for transparency and disclosure from business, government, unions, universities and charities, they’re cutting disclosure of their own.
The largest newspaper publisher in the country announced it would quit the audit, known as the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) figures, in favour of Enhanced Media Metrics Australia (EMMA) data — a measure brought in by the industry in 2013 which uses user surveys to assess audience (the number of people who have read the publications), instead of circulation (the number of copies of a publication that have been printed or sold).
News Corp said it made the decision based on feedback from advertisers — although some of the agencies Mumbrella spoke to said they weren’t consulted and for the most part would rather more rather than fewer measures.
News’ decision leaves TV and radio as the platforms with the cleanest, most transparent systems of measuring audiences and performance. Unlike newspapers and magazines, TV is measured daily, radio around eight times a year. Oztam is owned equally by Seven, Nine and Ten, with independent management and measures TV, and the independent measurement group GfK measures radio. The results have as much credibility as the ABC figures did for print sales for newspapers and magazines.
EMMA is not independent in the way the audit system was at arm’s length to the publishers (even though there were representatives on the board). It’s run by research company Ipsos under the oversight of trade body NewsMediaWorks’ sister organisation Readership Works, which represents the publishers.
The decision came on top of sharp falls in the print sales of News Corp papers in the six months to June 30 this year. The decision to abandon the audit means those figures are the last we will have for News Corp’s print performance. It is not a pretty picture and we can only presume that the slump has continued in the current six months and abandoning the audit for EMMA is a way of not having to reveal more bad news.
Media analyst Steve Allen told Crikey he agreed with other predictions this week that News leaving Audited Media could be the end of its audits.
“The magazines were a bad enough blow, now the biggest publisher has pulled out. The dominoes are falling. If AMAA can’t be refigured there will not be audits of anything,” he said.
And that would mean that smaller publications wouldn’t have access to any audited data — not all agencies or analysts use EMMA data, and the other data from Roy Morgan is also based on surveys, and far too expensive for the small publications, Allen said.
“News Corp’s utterings are largely political, and this could have a highly detrimental knock-on effect. It would be much, much cheaper for smaller publishers to support the AMAA than to have Morgan survey them.”
Publishers use circulation and audience data to set prices and sell their ad space to advertisers and agencies.
In the US, American newspaper groups (through the old Newspaper Association of America, now the News Media Alliance (NMA) abandoned its compiling of newspaper circulation figures twice a year. Nothing has replaced that, although some papers rely on assertions about sales and digital subscriptions, or use systems similar to EMMA.
The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post are News Corp’s two US papers. Very little detail is given about the performance of the Post except an occasional mention about how its digital subscriptions are going, and Journal‘s global managing director Jonny Wright was in Australia trumpeting his paper’s success earlier this year. The New York Times also releases digital only subscription data each quarter and no information on print sales. It is the same across the entire US newspaper industry.
But it is a very different story in the highly-competitive UK industry where monthly audits are still being conducted of newspapers, with separate audits of their websites, and quarterly total readership surveys done in what is called the National Readership Survey (NRS). News Corp UK are card carrying members of that survey, perhaps because the audit still shows The Sun and Sun on Sunday doing well, even if sales are sliding, and the Times and Sunday Times doing better.