Multipliers: A Way to Establish Correlations Between Audited Circulation and Readership Or Just Fluff?

April 28th, 2010

by Carol Holden*

Ever since taking over the reins of the BurrellesLuce Media Measurement department, more years ago than I wish to claim, I have heard a persistent question from clients: “What is an accurate multiplier to use with the audited circulation for print media to give a more realistic readership measure.” “Isn’t there an overall industry standard to use?” It came up again as recently as this week.

Obviously the question is asked because many publications are passed around the household or office, and are available in every waiting room space in America.  And I have heard multipliers tossed about, anywhere from two to as much as seven, with little substantiation as to how the number was derived.

Our response to this question has always been that we do not recommend any multipliers because we have not found data to support any overall numbers that would equate to all newspapers, large or small, daily or non-daily. The same feeling holds true for magazines.

However, there is some research on the topic this month, produced by Scarborough Research and the Newspaper National Network, working to

Multipliers: A Way to

Flickr Image: atomicjeep

establish correlations between circulation (audited) and readership.

The examination of the two metrics was done using 25 major daily printed newspapers – although not all were in the top 25 – ranked by total circulation as reported in the Audit Bureau of Circulations. The following are some of the conclusions the study draws:

  • Readership and circulation are highly correlated and have been moving in the same direction over time.
  • Readership is decreasing at a slower rate than circulation.
  • The analysis found that Readers-Per-Copy is increasing.
  • The readership metric facilitates apples to apples comparisons with other media, which rely on audience estimates.

Although I found the report interesting, I would still be hesitant to make recommendations to a client who wished to add a multiplier because:

  • I would not feel comfortable using the findings from this type of report outside of the specific 25 newspaper media universe studied, such as applying the multipliers to smaller daily or non-daily newspapers.
  • Because readership/circulation illustrates “opportunities to see” rather than eyeballs, I would be wary of advising a client to make an apples to apples comparison to other media that rely on audience/visitor estimates.
  • The New York Times reported on April 26, 2010 that: “In the six-month period ending March 31, the Audit Bureau of Circulations reported Sunday sales dropping 6.5 percent and weekday sales 8.7 percent compared with the same six-month period a year ago. The figures are based on reports filed by hundreds of individual papers.” With the landscape changing so quickly, how long would multipliers even for the subset of 25 newspapers analyzed be valid?

What methods do you use to judge the reach of campaigns in print media? Do you incorporate any type of multipliers in your data and if so how did you come up with them and support them going forward. Are there any other “fuzzy” numbers that you use? And for those not using multipliers, how are you qualifying those opportunities to see? How are you distinguishing them from circulation and eyeballs? Please share your thoughts and experience with me and the readers of BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas.


Bio: I’ve been in the media business all of my adult life, first in newspapers before going full circle and joining BurrellesLuce, where I now direct the Media Measurement department. I’ve always enjoyed meeting and especially listening to the needs of our customers and others in the public relations and communications fields; I welcome sharing ideas through the Fresh Ideas blog. One of my professional passions is providing the type of service to a client that makes them respond, “atta girl” – inspiring our entire team to keep striving to be the best. Although I have been lucky enough to travel through much of Asia and most major U.S. cities for business or pleasure, my free time is now spent with my daughter, visiting family/friends, and of course the Jersey shore. Twitter: @domeasurement LinkedIn: Carol Holden Facebook: BurrellesLuce

2 Responses to “Multipliers: A Way to Establish Correlations Between Audited Circulation and Readership Or Just Fluff?”

  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by BurrellesLuce: Multipliers: A Solid Metric or Just Fluff? BurrellesLuce’s Carol Holden @domeasurement weighs-in

  2. Like multipliers, audited circulation is ultimately bunk.

    It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking newspapers, magazines, controlled circulation magazines, TV shows, radio, Websites, etc. An advertising rate based on circulation readership is simply a baseline comparison planning and pricing variable – one of several variables that should be used in determining the anticipated cost/opportunity for a given medium (and why digital companies have eaten the lunch of old school publishing, media buying, and press relations by using behavioral pricing in their models).

    Relevance, impact, engagement, target audience, value, clutter, reputation – there are many variables which any brand person worth their salary should weigh. Any variable deemed important to their effort to determine an effective media buy or media relations outreach program can drive an efficient decision. But without smart objectives and thoughtful decision-making, they are just wasting money – Google or no Google…

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