Informed media watchers in Singapore couldn’t help but chuckle when they came across this recent headline: “Straits Times keeps No 1 spot, drawing 1.35m readers.”
I’m not sure why it bothered to proclaim this victory considering the newspaper is running in a one-horse race. It’s the only national English-language broadsheet on sale here, competing against itself.
It’s tantamount to SBS Transit claiming to be Singapore’s best bus operator. I doubt it will get any message of congratulations from the public.
(With due respect to it’s staff, TODAY is no editorial competitor. It is neither national nor provide full coverage and is competitive to the ST only in advertising.)
The second caveat to its claim lies in its purported rise of 30,000 readers to 1.35m compared to 1.32 in 2005 (quoting the latest Nielsen Media Index survey).
“It retained top spot as the favourite daily in Singapore,” it declared, obviously regarding TODAY, Business Times, Lianhe Zaobao, Berita Harian, Tamil Musasu, etc as competitors.
To the newspaper, this increase “is very good” compared with the rest of the declining world outside.
"Readership is falling in many newspapers round the world because news is available free on the Internet, on TV and on radio, “ says the ST editor.
"We face the same challenges in Singapore, and to be able to gain new readers in such a difficult environment is very encouraging."
Audited circulation, please!
Generally, readership surveys have limited worth, useful in determining the reach of the newspaper and detailing – for advertisers - readership profiles.
In other words, they show what age groups are avid readers and what they read to help advertisers plan their campaigns.
Some are actually wary about readership surveys, preferring to know the audited circulation figures - or actual sales figures (net of complementary copies) as the minimum requirement.
Conducted over one issue of over a period of say three months, these surveys are purportedly done on thousands of households. Figures are always higher than circulation data.
This is because several family members or office workers (in ST’s case 3.5 readers) share the same copy.
I have also noticed that in recent years, when circulation figures had shown stagnation or declines, the Straits Times had increasingly been emphasising on “readership” rather than “audited circulation.”
(Actually a truly transparent media would offer both because they complement each other.)
Many advertising firms in a non-monopoly environment (where they had a wider adv choice) would insist on detailed audited circulation information rather than merely “readership” surveys as the primary data source.
“Readership” surveys, if professionally carried out, are useful too, but recognisably would always have an element of error or distortion, less accurate than actual circulations.
When newspapers hike prices or during a serious economic downturn, it is possible for sales to drop but readership to go up as sharing becomes more prevalent.
This means that the number of readers may go up from say, 3.5 to 3.7 per copy. That doesn’t result in a better bottom line.
Besides readership often rises during general elections, wars or other major developments of special interest to Singaporeans – faster than audited circulation.
To be fair, The Straits Times do publish circulation figures except – as in the case of the recent gloating report – it doesn’t emphasise them. Understandable so when advertising costs depend mostly on a newspaper's circulation.
With sales trending downwards (it could be worse if not for its near-monopoly and a huge population jump in Singapore), the management probably felt it wiser not to play up ‘circulation’ figures.
How do we know ‘circulation’ had dropped? See for yourself: -
Daily ST average circulation:
1998 = 391,612 (population: 3,490,356)
2004 = 380,197
2005 = 386,167
June 16, 2006 = 381,934 (when population had risen to 4,492,150).
26 Oct 2006
Straits Times gloating in a one-horse race
You know what they say, a pat on the back is only a foot away from a kick in the arse. And Seah Chiang Nee (LittleSpeck.com) delivers the boot: