Why the latest Indian Readership Survey numbers must be withdrawn

So here it is. The Hindu Business Line’s readership in Manipur is more than three times that in Chennai!

This is one of a long string of absurdities in the Indian Readership Survey (IRS) 2013, put out by the Media Research Users Council (MRUC) after a hiatus of almost a year.

On the face of it, we have reason to be delighted that our readership in Bihar, where like Manipur we don’t have a printing centre, is more than 9,000.But the truth is that we are appalled by findings of this survey, which fail to throw up a readership figure — on the presumption that it is under 1,000 — in some of our major printing centres, including Chennai, for which we have a corresponding audited circulation figure of 15,522.

The IRS itself, in the last quarter of 2012, had estimated a readership in Chennai of over 11,000. So, where does the MRUC think these readers have gone? Have they simply vanished?

The MRUC’s plea, when putting out these figures, is that since the methodology used was different, the print media should refrain from comparing this survey with previous ones.

But this simply doesn’t wash. If it boasts about the accuracy of the latest survey — and it does so having described the methodology used as “transformational” and bringing in “a sea change in the industry much like the way Bill Gates did with the introduction of the Windows software” — then shouldn’t it be apologising for what it has been serving up in the past?

It is pointless to defend surveys on the ground of their ostensible methodological rigour if the results they produce militate against common sense. The survey should have reviewed its results wherever it threw up patent absurdities rather than mindlessly going on about the “latest methodology” and “greater accuracy”.

It is hardly surprising that other newspapers and magazines are as outraged as we are by this survey. But the IRS has traditionally underestimated the number of readers for Business Line.

Readership numbers for publications are usually greater than the circulation numbers since many copies are read by more than one person. For Business Line, IRS estimates have traditionally suggested the reverse — that we have fewer readers than we have paid copies.

While this has always been implausible, the findings of the latest survey are simply unbelievable. We reject that our All-India readership stands at a mere 1.04 lakh as the latest IRS has estimated.

The MRUC must do the only decent thing under the circumstances — withdraw the survey.

Mukund Padmanabhan


(This article was published on January 30, 2014)
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