November 19, 2005

Letter to the Editor The Australian

Finding No: 429

To Whom It May Concern,

In The Australian November 11 , 2005 , Sheena MacLean ‘Morgan readership figures queried’ claims publishers have little reason for joy in the latest Roy Morgan Readership figures.

Questioning Roy Morgan Readership figures by publishers is unjustified and confusing. 

The paper, “ Readers-per-copy: beyond the phoney figure debate to understanding reader choice and how to drive it your way ”, explains in detail how readership relates to circulation.  

The real point is that newspapers sell and are read according to the “news” of the day.  Newspapers sell and are read by more people when the events of the day are exciting (eg the Olympic Games), frightening (eg September 11, 2001 and other terrorist events) or of human interest (eg Royal Weddings). 

Readership , or the number of readers, changes depending on the “news” — a clear example of this for magazines was the June 2004 Women’s Weekly Royal Wedding Souvenir Issue (Mary and Frederik) which nearly doubled its readership in that month. 

A good example for newspapers is provided by historical analysis of the Roy Morgan Readership Survey data on publicity in newspapers during the lead-up to the August 2004 Olympic Games. The Herald Sun and Daily Telegraph M-F ‘average issue’ readership noticeably increased during the September 2004 Quarter and then declined, as shown below:

Quarter to June 2004 Quarter to Sept 2004 Quarter to Dec 2004
‘000 % ‘000 % ‘000 %
Herald Sun 1,502 36.9 1,555 38.0 1,498 36.5
Daily Telegraph 1,151 20.0 1,228 21.3 1,135 19.7

There is no escaping this reality — when nothing much is happening it is hard to get people to ‘engage’ either in reading or buying newspapers.

However, experienced newspaper publishers have developed sophisticated strategies and techniques to drive circulation .  These are predominantly ‘incentives to buy’ newspapers, eg promotions, giveaways with the newspaper, and competitions/coupons.  These all require people to buy a newspaper to get the ‘gift’ or be able to enter the competition — whether or not they or anyone else read the newspaper.  Indeed, a really valuable offer can result in a single person buying multiple copies of a newspaper. 

Publishers use other strategies and techniques to drive readership (eg advertising ; front pages that invite readers to open and read the newspaper; and sections that invite “pass-on” to other readers).

The crucial point is that strategies that drive circulation rarely drive readership at anything like the same rate — if at all.

  • During the last week the following newspaper promotions or ‘incentives to buy’ ran in newspapers across Australia :
  • Sunday Herald Sun — Free loaf of Brumby’s bread with the Herald Sun… Just take in the masthead to receive the bread
  • Saturday Mercury — A token competition to win a Holden Tigra Hardtop Convertible 
  • Sunday Mail — Harry Potter Movie Ticket competition 
  • Sunday Times — A Harry Potter Movie Pack -- for $2 with a token
  • The Sun Herald — Harry Potter Movie Preview competition. 
  • The Daily Telegraph — Collect tokens to win a $10,000 sports gear voucher for your school. 
  • The Australian — Collect tokens to win an Audi car. 
  • The Sunday Mail ( Queensland ) — Competition to win a family escape, in collaboration with Channel 7 
  • The Sunday Age — Free movie tickets if you join The Age/Europa Movie Club.

Each week newspapers in Australia run such promotions.  Obviously readership and circulation changes do not always correlate. Many people buy one or more newspapers for the promotions; this significantly reduces the number of readers-per-newspaper sold.

It is no wonder circulations of many newspapers are “up” while Roy Morgan Readership estimates are “down”. 


Gary Morgan , Executive Chairman and
Michele Levine , Chief Executive
Roy Morgan Research

PS:  On Wednesday we released the Roy Morgan “Top 1%” Readership results . This answers Michael Gill’s quote by Neil Shoebridge in the November 11 Australian Financial Review, “Nevertheless, Fairfax continues to question the ability of Morgan to accurately measure our difficult-to-reach senior business executive audience”. 

Margin of Error

The margin of error to be allowed for in any estimate depends mainly on the number of interviews on which it is based. Margin of error gives indications of the likely range within which estimates would be 95% likely to fall, expressed as the number of percentage points above or below the actual estimate. Allowance for design effects (such as stratification and weighting) should be made as appropriate.

Sample Size Percentage Estimate
40% – 60% 25% or 75% 10% or 90% 5% or 95%
1,000 ±3.0 ±2.7 ±1.9 ±1.3
5,000 ±1.4 ±1.2 ±0.8 ±0.6
7,500 ±1.1 ±1.0 ±0.7 ±0.5
10,000 ±1.0 ±0.9 ±0.6 ±0.4
20,000 ±0.7 ±0.6 ±0.4 ±0.3
50,000 ±0.4 ±0.4 ±0.3 ±0.2

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