Tag Archives: Audit Bureau of Circulations

More on those inflated digital circulation numbers

Jon Chesto of the Boston Business Journal takes on a subject that I tackled recently: trying to make sense of The Boston Globe’s paid circulation figures at a time when no one seems to know how to count print and digital sales.

As Chesto and a number of us have observed, the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM), whose numbers are considered to be the industry standard, has gotten carried away with digital subscriptions, allowing the Globe and other newspapers to count some subscribers two or even three times. Chesto writes:

This potential for discrepancies and confusion is one reason why the AAM board, which oversees how newspaper circulations are reported to advertisers, is weighing whether to tighten its rules.

It’s hard these days to get a precise number for unique paying subscribers, a figure that AAM was generally able to provide, back when it was known as the Audit Bureau of Circulations, and readership was essentially measured by the number of copies sold.

There’s no question we need a standard that everyone can agree on and that makes sense. Paid digital has enabled the Globe to improve its circulation numbers, and that’s fine. But the AAM system is so out of whack that it’s in danger of not being taken seriously.

At the Globe and the Herald, what’s up is down, etc.

On Tuesday, the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) released data showing that the Boston Globe’s paid circulation is rising thanks to digital subscriptions, and that the Boston Herald’s is falling. (Here is how the Globe covered it.)

Today the Herald counters with a story claiming that the reverse is actually true, citing a private report from Scarborough Research.

It’s an exact replica of what happened six months ago. So if you’d like some perspective on the ABC numbers, click here; and if you want background on the Herald’s pushback, click here.

Just to be clear, the ABC figures are public and are widely regarded as the industry standard. If you read what I wrote earlier, you’ll see that there’s some double-counting going on with respect to print and digital subscriptions. But what ABC is doing is transparent and understandable to everyone.

I would love to read the Scarborough report. But unless it somehow magically appears in my inbox, I have no way of parsing the findings that the Herald cites.

Globe versus Herald: Scarborough edition

About a month after the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) reported that the Boston Herald’s paid circulation was falling and the Boston Globe’s was rising, the Herald today offers the results of a new Scarborough survey that claims exactly the opposite.

OK, not exactly the opposite — the Scarborough report counts total print and Web readership, not papers and digital editions sold. Overall, according to Herald reporter Frank Quaratiello, “The Herald’s print and Web audience rose 6 percent while the Globe’s combined audience dropped 6 percent.”

Unlike ABC reports, I do not have access to Scarborough surveys, which clients such as the Globe and the Herald pay for. So I’m not in a position to endorse or dispute the Herald’s take. (But if anyone wants to send me a copy …)

And though it doesn’t merit its own item, I’ll note a final Globe-versus-Herald brief for today: a Herald story quoting an unnamed union source who says the New York Times Co. is shutting the Globe’s suburban bureaus in the near future — “another sign that the Big Apple company is setting the stage to sell the Hub broadsheet.”

More: I should note the latest ABC figures, which show the Globe’s total paid circulation on Sundays is 365,512, whereas the Herald’s is 81,677. On Monday through Friday, it’s 225,482 for the Globe and 103,616 for the Herald.

For Web traffic, the best I can do is Compete.com, whose overall numbers are suspect, but which has some usefulness in terms of making apples-to-apples comparisons. According to Compete, the Globe’s free Boston.com site attracted 2.8 million unique visitors in April, compared to 1.2 million for BostonHerald.com.

It depends on what you mean by “bureaus.” Update: The Herald story refers to the Globe’s “remaining suburban bureaus.” But two Globe sources tell me that the Globe only has one — in Danvers.

For newspapers, a digital break from the bad news

It’s hard to know what to make of the latest numbers from the Audit Bureau of Circulations given that the New York Times gets credit for a paid-circulation boost of 73 percent. Yes, it makes sense to add print and digital subscriptions together. But some of the numbers reported on Tuesday are anomalies that won’t be repeated once digital subscriptions grow into maturity.

Still, good news is good news. Thanks to digital subscriptions, the Boston Globe registered a 2.5 percent circulation boost on Sundays (now 365,512) and a 2.9 percent increase on weekdays (225,482) — the paper’s first increases since 2004. Those numbers, though, do rely to some extent on favorable ABC rules when it comes to counting digital readership.

The Globe reports 18,000 digital subscriptions. ABC gives the Globe credit for about 33,000 digital readers. The difference is that the 18,000 figure counts Globe readers whose only subscription is digital. The higher ABC figure encompasses those whose subscriptions include some combination of print and digital — “engaged home delivery print subscribers who access BostonGlobe.com at least once per week,” according to an email from Peter Doucette, the Globe’s executive director of circulation sales and marketing.

Boston Herald publisher Pat Purcell has talked about a paid-subscription model for his paper, and I’d imagine that talk is likely to increase after Tuesday. The Herald’s daily paid circulation fell by 12.3 percent, to 108,548; on Sundays it declined by 6.2 percent, to 81,925. In its own story today, the Herald emphasizes the popularity of its free website, traffic to which it claims is up 25 percent over the past year.

One point the Herald does make in its rather snippy account of the Globe’s numbers is that paid digital circulation simply isn’t as valuable to advertisers as paid print circulation. That’s true, and, if anything, the situation may be deteriorating. According to newspaper analyst Alan Mutter, the share of online advertising going to newspaper websites dropped to an all-time low in 2011.

What that means is the question of who will pay for journalism remains as vital as ever. The newspaper business is proving that at least some of its users are willing to pay for online news. Will there be enough of them to make a real difference — and will they be willing to pay enough to offset the continuing loss of advertising revenues?

Those are questions that will have to be answered. For now, we should all be glad that the issue is whether the new circulation numbers are as good as they seem. That’s a nice break from wondering if the bottom is about to fall out.

Sunday morning coming down (but not by as much)

Stories about declining newspaper circulation have become so routine that they’re hardly worth commenting on unless some deeper meaning can be found. So I’m looking closely at the latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, which show smaller losses for the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald on Sundays than on weekdays — especially in the case of the Globe.

The Globe’s weekday circulation for the six-month period that ended on Sept. 30 was 205,939, a drop of 7.5 percent. On Sundays, it was 360,186, down just 2 percent.

At the Herald, weekday circulation is now 113,798, a decline of 8.7 percent. On Sundays, it’s 85,828, down 4.8 percent.

Significantly, the period in question precedes the Globe’s new print-and-digital strategy. The Globe charges less to take home delivery of the Sunday paper and receive BostonGlobe.com for free than it does to subscribe to BostonGlobe.com seven days a week. At the Globe, as at most newspapers, the Sunday edition is by far the most profitable, and the idea is to preserve Sunday print no matter what.

It will be interesting to see what effect this strategy has on print circulation when the next figures are released in the spring of 2012. Needless to say, the real threat to the Globe is the possibility that readers will content themselves with the paper’s other website — the still-free Boston.com — and not pay for anything online.

The numbers also suggest that the Herald needs a better digital strategy of its own. Although the tabloid has a nice iPhone app (my preferred method for reading the Herald), its website is in serious need of an upgrade. For those who want to read the entire paper electronically, the Herald’s only offering is a hard-to-navigate electronic edition that’s basically a PDF of every page.

If the Herald were to offer an easy-on-the-eyes, reasonably priced digital option, I would pay for it. So, I suspect, would a lot of other people.