FORUM: Could publishing endure two readership surveys? - What are the odds on the National Readership Survey surviving the latest spat between both magazine and newspaper publishers? Of course, we’ve been to the brink before and survived. But woul

A little more than a year ago, consumer magazine publishers decided to do some research that would complement the standard National Readership Survey press trading currency. Called QRS, it was conducted by the same research company (Research Services Limited) that handles the NRS, and it looked at more touchy-feely qualitative data on readers’ relationships with their chosen magazines.

A little more than a year ago, consumer magazine publishers decided

to do some research that would complement the standard National

Readership Survey press trading currency. Called QRS, it was conducted

by the same research company (Research Services Limited) that handles

the NRS, and it looked at more touchy-feely qualitative data on readers’

relationships with their chosen magazines.



This worried newspaper owners who believed the figures might reflect

badly on the readerships of their separately branded supplements and

review sections - which compete for the same types of ad revenue as

consumer magazines. But they went from worried to incandescent with rage

when they heard that the Periodical Publishers Association - the trade

body for the magazine medium - intended to bolt the new data on to the

main readership data and market it under the NRS branding. The Newspaper

Publishers Association, which jointly funds the NRS study alongside the

magazine publishers, attempted to block this move but the PPA did it

anyway.



Big mistake. Everyone knew that, whatever the cost, the NPA would seek

revenge. Now, it looks as if it’s about to happen. The NRS contract is

up for review this summer and the NPA is going to use this as an excuse

to show who’s boss. In short, the PPA has been given Hobson’s choice:

either it takes a much reduced presence on the survey - with as few as

40 or 50 magazines being measured, as opposed to hundreds currently; or

the newspapers will effectively pull the plug and the NRS will be no

more.



Ostensibly, the NPA wants to see more time and effort spent gathering

data on the aforementioned newspaper supplements and review

sections.



As Steve Oram, the director of the NPA, points out, agencies have been

crying out for this added newspaper data. He states: ’We want to give

more information to media buyers. We can only do that by changing the

survey to use more of the interview time to look at the various topics

which newspaper sections cover. We really do have to address the

question of section research. If magazine publishers decided to leave

the NRS because of that, it would be a great shame. If the NRS can meet

our requirements, would I prefer to have a survey with the PPA? Yes. But

not at the expense of those requirements.’



The NPA is about to assess the results from trials to see if the NRS can

be rejigged to provide the sorts of figures newspapers would like to

see. It says it will make a decision in the summer. But some agencies

are unconvinced by NPA rhetoric. They point out that the NRS has already

been rejigged to provide data on all of the sections in all of the

newspapers.



Strangely, though, the publishers have chosen not to release this

data.



Even if the quality of the data needs to be upgraded, it surely

shouldn’t mean all but the biggest consumer magazines being bumped from

the survey. Duncan Edwards, the deputy managing director of the National

Magazine Company, points out that some important and high-profile titles

would be excluded.



Now Edwards has begun a tour of major agencies and advertisers to make

sure that they understand the implications of the NPA proposals. He is

believed to have won support for his concerns from the Incorporated

Society of British Advertisers.



He comments: ’In all the discussions I have had with agencies so far,

they have indicated that the NPA proposals to cut the number of

magazines covered would be a big problem for them. They remain keen to

have single source data comparing the magazines they use with

newspapers, newspaper supplements and magazines - but more than 50

magazines. What use would a piece of research be that included Marie

Claire but perhaps not Elle?’



Chris Shaw, the joint managing director of Universal McCann, reveals

that he has considerable sympathy for the magazine publishers.



He states: ’The NRS should be as broad as it possibly can and

qualitative or more detailed data should be collected in separate

studies, much in the same way as QRS. QRS was well received by agencies

and it has done much to raise the standing of the sector.



’I think the same can be said of all the joint industry research. It has

all become too big and too cumbersome.



Industry research should be much more focused on a central remit that

can form a base for other add-on research initiatives. The media

industry is far too complex for single source pieces of data that are

expected to do everything.’



Doug Read, the strategy director of MediaVest, agrees with that, but

he’s no longer sure it’s possible. He says: ’If we end up with two

surveys, we can come along and fuse them back together at some point.

Two competing surveys might stimulate each other to do more and more

things. The total amount of money spent on press research goes up and

everyone gets better data. Fine and groovy.’



Alternatively, though, two surveys means everyone having to spend twice

the amount of time looking at data when they have better things to be

getting on with. And, as no-one wants to score an own goal, all we will

get are survey questions designed to cast each medium in the best

possible light. And there is always the temptation to start asking

questions designed to get negative responses concerning rival media. Not

quite so fine and groovy.



Read adds: ’I’ve always said that you shouldn’t try to overstretch the

joint industry committee research. If you take QRS and NRS and get

publishers to release the section research that’s already there, we

already have as much as we’re ever going to get in terms of readership

research.



Ideally, we’d have a basic NRS and spend time on top of that looking at

the requirements of individual clients. But unless newspaper publishers

come under real pressure from agencies and advertisers, I can see us

moving to two separate surveys and no NRS. The jury’s still out as to

whether that’s a good idea or not.’



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