Media buyers demand answers over ‘inconsistencies’ in EMMA print readership data

Nick Keenan

Maxus’s Nick Keenan

The managing director of Maxus Nick Keenan says Australia’s major print publishers need to prove to media agencies that the rising readers per copy  and rising print readerships for a number of titles being claimed in the first year on year EMMA data are actually accurate.

Keenan’s comments came after an analysis by Mumbrella of the first year-on-year EMMA data showed the number of readers per copy (RPC) rising on almost every print newspaper and magazine, with several mastheads reporting print readerships rising including News Corp’s Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun, Courier Mail and Fairfax’s Canberra Times.

These increases came despite double digit declines in print circulations for nearly every newspaper and magazine masthead’s print editions.

“There was always the rule of three (for newspapers) that’s the pass around factor,” said Keenan, in response to rises that have The Age’s RPC grow to 6. “If they are going to show significant readership increases that are at odds with copy sales then they need to come in and explain the methodology — because we are not buying it.”

Bauer’s ‘lads mag’ Zoo Weekly went from an RPC of 9.44 last year, to 15.44 in the latest round of data.

Former News Corp group sales manager Keenan noted that even if “pass around” copies or so called secondary readers in public places such as coffee shops were increasing, those readers were less engaged.

“Yes in public spaces cafes, bars etc. because they are buying less papers, you see people rush for them so I think the pass around is far higher,” he said, “But if someone stops buying something then they are a less engaged reader, because they have decided they can do without that platform for their news.

“It seems extraordinarily high to (in some cases) double one’s pass around rate. It used to be one copy to three readers.”

A number of other media buyers Mumbrella spoke to shared Keenan’s concerns about the rises in EMMA’s print readership numbers, however most declined to be seen as criticising the publisher funded EMMA, which but compiled independently by research company Ipsos, on the record.

One trading director of a major media agency, citing the 15 copies per reader being claimed Zoo Weekly, said he questioned the reliability of the EMMA numbers.

“If it’s passed on and you haven’t paid for it what’s your attention to it?,”  said the executive, who declined to be named. “It’s not the same as sitting down with the newspapers on a Sunday. If its 15 times in the case of Zoo Weekly it may be that on a building site in the toilet, but I wouldn’t want to be the last reader.”

Another senior media agency executive who focused on research and audience measurement said: “The methodology and some of the data outputs are frankly pretty hard to swallow.

“The thing we need is consistency and the fact is whatever EMMA thinks they can throw at Roy Morgan they are not in the race as far as the quality of the survey is concerned.”

Media analyst Steve Allen, who has been a long time support of the incumbent currency Roy Morgan, which EMMA was set up to challenge, noted that anomalies were not new but that they raise questions about whether EMMA’s methodology was better than its rival.

Commenting on the rises for the Telegraph, Herald Sun, Courier Mail, NT News and Canberra Times’s print readerships Allen said: “These anomalies occur, they have always occurred, but given the one of the newspaper industry one of their staunch criticisms of Morgan was these inconsistencies you have to wonder how far they have progressed.”

Allen also questioned where each edition was on average being read by six people, noting the consumer shift away from print, adding: “We are seeing an industry currency that seems to be going in the wrong direction. You can’t imagine an industry fronting up with the amount of millions of dollars they have had to, and have a survey that didn’t have favourable results.

“However these numbers are starting to defy gravity.”

Keenan who worked at News Corp sales from 2005 to 2008, said the publishers were having the wrong conversation when its comes to both readership and circulation and were possibly miscalculating the pass around factor.

“The thing that this ignores is that the bulk of newspapers were households where the paper would be shared within the house, and you got your usual three pass around. That’s the bulk of it, so if there are less copies then yes there is less (print) readership,” he said.

“It’s is an irrelevant argument. What we want to understand is what happened last week.”

Keenan instead argued they should be trading more day to day and seeking to capitalise more on the ebbs and flows in the news cycle as rival mediums do.

“We all know the audience is growing across digital, mobile and newspapers, but when you look at it the problem we have as buyers is we don’t buy that way,” said Keenan, who within Maxus is creating his own sentiment analysis program the ESI sentiment index which examines headline sentiment across a number of major publishers.

“The publishers don’t get it. The readership/circulation argument is irrelevant. I don’t care about the (total) audience —  I care what happened last Thursday and was there a sudden surge because of Baby Gammy and the 60 Minutes special and was everyone outraged? I could have traded that because there would have been a ground swell of audience.”

Nic Christensen 


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