Guy Consterdine, FIPP’s Research Consultant, assesses a shock announcement concerning the UK’s National Readership Survey (NRS) which has underlined how far magazines and newspapers have been evolving away from each other.
Magazine and national newspaper publishers in the UK have been cooperating in funding and developing the NRS as a continuous survey since 1956. It is the established trading currency for planning print campaigns. Now this month the newspaper’s marketing body Newsworks gave notice to quit the NRS in order to create its own ‘contemporary’ audience measurement system which better reflects the way people consume news across print and all the digital devices.
When the present contract expires, the NRS will have run continuously with face-to-face interviewing for exactly 60 years, an astonishing achievement.
To some extent one could see a split coming. As in so many other countries, for most national newspapers their total audiences have become weighted towards websites and other digital sources, as the latter grow rapidly while their print circulations continue to fall. For example, The Guardian has 10.4 million visitors to its website but only 3.9 million adult readers of the daily printed newspaper. Consumer magazines, by contrast, have audiences heavily weighted towards print. The newspapers’ core product – the fast-moving news, continuously updated – is so much more suited to digital media than once-a-day print that newspapers (or newsbrands as they are increasingly calling themselves) must focus more on their digital audiences in future, especially if as some commentators predict most newsbrands will eventually become digital-only.
Magazines, by contrast, provide content most of which is very well suited to print; print has unique advantages over digital forms of media, advantages which suit the way consumers use magazines (relaxed ‘me-time’, and so on); and magazines attract more targeted audiences than national newspapers do. Consequently most magazines can anticipate a more even balance between future print and digital users. Magazines’ research needs are not as similar to those of newspapers as in the past.
Nonetheless it’s a shock when 60 years of history comes to a sudden end. It’s not as if the NRS had not been evolving. For several years audience data on publishers’ websites accessed via PCs have been built into the survey through fusing comScore information onto the NRS database, and from September website audiences using mobiles (laptops and smartphones) will be added.
However the website figures are limited in their detail, and Newsworks seeks more granularity. In particular the national newspapers are developing an electronic Publisher Advertising Transaction System (PATS), and they want a form of audience research which can feed directly into it alongside the ad bookings data.
Newsworks is expected to publish a specification for its new survey in the autumn, putting it out to tender.
As a member of the Technical Committee of the NRS, representing magazine publishers, I will be keen to see whether the specification is one that might suit magazine publishers too, so that magazines and newsbrands might continue their cooperation in a new form; or whether magazines and newspapers are evolving away from each other to such an extent that each will need to go its own separate way.
We live in interesting times!