Journalist Pragasen-Edwin Naidu threw down the gauntlet late on Thursday evening, the day before Good Friday and the long weekend. Using the Facebook forum, Journos from the ‘70s, ‘80s. ‘90s and Beyond, he wrote, “Indy grows, even in Cape Town, despite tsunami on fb, and why are you not reading this via the experts on Grubstreet or Mediaonline (sic)? Perhaps, the Easter egg hunt started early. For those writing obits, readers seem to like what they’re doing, it seems. Here is the article from the web since you won’t read it anywhere.”
Naidu was referring to a press release issued by Independent Media after 4pm on Thursday afternoon. As media people know, releasing a media statement late in the afternoon prior to a weekend is tantamount to hoping the story will go away. So it was not surprising Grubstreet’s Gill Moodie and myself were already on an ‘early Easter Egg hunt’. Nevertheless, members of the Facebook group responded with alacrity and a vigorous debate ensued.
The crux of the argument revolved around Independent Media’s claims in the press release regarding its December 2014 AMPS numbers: “All Independent’s daily newspapers in the Cape region recorded significant growth, with the Cape Argus reaching a total of 421 000 daily readers at the end of December 2014, up on the 344 000 recorded the last time the AMPS figures were released for the end of June 2014,” it said.
“The Cape Times readership grew from 200 000 to 235 000 in the second half of 2014, while the tabloid Daily Voice readership grew from 468 000 daily readers to 516 000. While the Saturday Argus readership dipped slightly from 123 000 to 104 000 in December, the Sunday Argus’ readership surged from 127 000 to 196 000 at year-end.”
Jermaine Craig, Indy’s editorial and brand executive, was quoted saying the group was “especially happy with the performance of our Cape region, where the Cape Argus’ change of format from compact to US broadsheet has clearly been well-received by readers and advertisers. In a year of considerable change at the Cape Times, where we implemented a number of editorial changes in 2014, the title continues to perform extremely well and its readership encouragingly continues to grow”.
And so the discussion started. It went something like this:
Robert Brand The AMPS figures are a bit of a thumb suck though. They claim to know somehow that every copy of the newspaper gets read by x number of people – in the case of the Cape Times, something like 12 or more. Let’s wait for the audited circulation figures.
Raymond Joseph I don’t want to be a party pooper either, but the acid test will be in the ABCs that record real sales at, I think 50 percent and over of cover price. Many papers, both Indie’s and those of many of their competitors. are handed out in large quantities for free at airports. When I fly these days, which I do often, I never have to buy papers, I just pick up the freebies either at check-in or when I fetch a hire car The New Age is delivered in huge bundles to govt offices, and other outlets where they are handed out for free as well as at airports. As an example, look at the huge drop in the Sunday Times’ numbers after they stripped out the cheapies and freebies.Let’s see what people are paying for first before jumping to conclusions.
Pragasen-Edwin Naidu Not one to care about the AMPS but it is a part of life and a very important one at that for advertisers without whom newspapers would surely collapse. A drop in circulation is not the death knell, after all Business Day is 30 000, and still highly regarded despite such a fall in circulation. I see the Sunday Times, Indy, Business Day, Star etc, so everybody seems to be dishing it out at airports, agree, frequent flyers must be loving it. Perhaps, our other media experts who seem to only give us fluff can explain the importance of AMPS and why should it be hailed or AMPED? If it is a waste of time we she ponder the question than diss its result, good or bad?
Robert Brand Maybe all you party animals can explain to me how the Cape Times’ readership grew 17 percent in the period (according to AMPS) while its (audited) circulation dropped 2 percent (according to ABC data)? Ah, because they’re giving it away.
“The ABC board noted in its presentation of these latest figures that there is a rise in “sales below 50%” (of cover price) across the board – especially for daily newspapers. In fact, it grew by 36% from the third quarter of 2014 among daily newspapers. The titles showing the strongest signs of employing this distribution tactic include: Caxton’s The Citizen and the its Saturday edition; and Indy’s Cape Argus, Cape Times, Pretoria News and its Saturday edition, The Star and the Saturday Star, Weekend Argus.” Sorry about the brown stuff raining down on your shindig.
Raymond Joseph The question is whether the cost of producing papers and giving them away free or cheaply can be sustained by advertising revenue. Only time (and the bean counters who know the true costs) can tell.
Pragasen-Edwin Naidu Robert didn’t think you being a cut and paste journo, not the Brand I knew but this brown stuff is good, are we talking AMPS or ABC, do paste me with enlightenment, I am not averse to good crap at all, love it.
Robert Brand Raymond, the question is also whether people actually read those newspapers that are given away, and, more importantly, how exactly AMPS determines that 7.4 people on average read EVERY copy of the Cape Times, sold or given away. If advertisers want to believe that, they’re welcome to waste their money.
Stuart Theobald Robert I don’t think that’s quite right. AMPS is a sample based consumer survey. So people are asked through a questionnaire on a street everything from what toothpaste they use to what they read. It tends to be heavily influenced by what happens to be top of mind… So timing an ad campaign for the survey period can pay off handsomely. Of course handing out free samples can help, as can a lot of publicity. I suspect this last element helped the Cape titles.
Jermaine Craig Pragasen-Edwin Naidu seems like Indy invented the AMPS system, probably gave them the numbers to release too AND we are the only company to distribute copies at the airports and with your pizza for that matter. We’ll just get on with the job, our company’s in good health, lots of room for improvement, which we’re working on, and lots of exciting initiatives in the pipeline to come. Appreciate you always giving our company a fair shake, which is all we ask.
Raymond Joseph Jermaine Craig No-one said you’re the only ones who give away airport freebies. In fact I said you weren’t, in this very string. And your ex paper, which I buy every day, did arrive with my pizza. Whether you believe it or not, I do hope Indie succeeds as many journos’ jobs depend on it. This string was about a laudatory story in one of your publications using AMPS to praise your publications. We didn’t invent AMPS either. We’re just debating it.
Robert Brand In fact, the ABC did say that Indy was particularly prone the giving away newspapers, more so than most others. Facts are not fair or unfair, Jermaine, they’re just facts.
That is when we decided to ask Gordon Patterson, vice president of the Audit Bureau of Circulations and a man who really understands the numbers, what he thinks of all this.
“It’s an interesting debate. I must say I like what Robert was saying,” said Patterson in response. “So let’s start at the beginning…”
This is what Patterson had to say:
- A publication prints a certain number of copies of a particular issue. This is called a print run.
- They’re distributed.
- Some are sold for at least 50% of the cover price. Some are sent to subscribers (individual and business). These sales are considered valuable by advertisers.
- The bulk of the balance are distributed via PMIE or 3rd Party Bulk deal. Travel and commercial subscriptions are typically the copies purchased by airlines and given free to travellers.
- Copies distributed at below 50% of the cover price on average have little value from an advertiser perspective.
- When the ABC allowed copies distributed at less than 50% on average of the cover price, the AMF introduced Core Circulation to reflect valuable circulation from an advertiser perspective.
- All Circulation data is audited.
- Readership is claimed and relies on the honesty and memory of the interviewee.
- Having both currencies (AMPS and ABCs) allow a decision-maker to make an informed choice.
- The table below explains the anomalies described in the posts in terms of the effect on readers per copy (RPC)
“The inter-relationship between both currencies is essential to understanding the health and wellbeing of a title. What’s often ignored is the publisher decision to cut the print order to balance income with expenses and this leads to the erroneous conclusion that a drop in circulation = increased reader rejection.
“If a title cuts it’s print order by 20% but only declines circulation by 10% then the title should be applauded for its efficiency… but with publisher communicating the facts most journalists see decline in circulation as being a public vote of no confidence… which could be incorrect,” he said.
Hope that helps settle some questions.
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