All across Canada yesterday afternoon, journalists were filing cheerful little stories about the latest results from the Newspaper Audience Databank and how they provide heartening news for the local rag and, indeed, the entire newspaper industry.
After NADBank yesterday privately released its 2009-2010 readership results to the newspapers in the communities surveyed, the resulting story in the Edmonton Journal was headlined "Readership numbers good news for The Journal."
"The number of people reading the Edmonton Journal has grown significantly since a spring industry audience study, led by the growing reach of The Journal's digital product -- edmontonjournal.com," the story accurately began. The rival Edmonton Sun did not have a story in its Website yesterday evening, but readers can expect something similar to appear soon.
NADBank describes itself as the "principal research arm of the Canadian daily newspaper industry" and its surveys are taken very seriously within the newspaper business as they provide the metric used to justify the advertising rates charged by the major metropolitan papers that are surveyed.
Surveys are conducted in the spring and fall and newspapers, typically, put on a major push during NADBank week to boost their circulation. The survey also measures readership among various ages and education levels.
Yesterday's Journal story, which is typical of the genre, described at length the genuinely impressive readership gains that Edmonton’s principal daily newspaper has made on its website. But the newspaper was much more circumspect describing the readership of its actual print newspaper -- surely still the core of its business -- saying only "on the print side, The Journal has shown remarkable stability in its core readership since 2005 through boom, bust, and recovery."
In fact, the news is not nearly as good as the first stories about NADBank's results suggested. A closer look at NADBank's statistics, which will be available on the group's website soon, reveals a darker picture.
For example, the Journal accurately reported: "New weekday readership grew to 276,300, up from 275,500 in the spring survey."
But the Journal did not compare the 2009-2010 results of NADBank's "Read Yesterday" category with the 2008-2009 results, the directly comparable period.
This comparison shows the Journal's current readership of 276,300 was down from 286,200 readers in the same period in 2008-2009, for a net loss of 9,900 readers or minus 3 per cent from the year-earlier period.
Because of its smaller readership, the figures were worse at the Edmonton Sun, 171,300 in 2009-2010 compared with 179,600 in 2008-2009, for a loss of 8,300 readers or minus 5 per cent.
According to NADBank, the Sun's free 24 publication saw readership drop from 34,100 to 30,600 in the same period, a loss of 3,500 readers or 10 per cent. Between them, then, the three papers lost 21,700 readers according to NADBank's estimate between the 2008-2009 surveys and the 2009-2010 surveys.
The only Edmonton daily paper to show significant gains according to this measure was Metro Edmonton, which saw readership rise by 17,500 or 34 per cent to 68,800 from 51,300.
In the five-day cumulative period, the results followed a similar pattern, with the Journal’s net reach down 22,800 readers to 453,300 readers from 476,100 or minus 5 per cent.
According to this measure, the Edmonton Sun's net reach was down 12,200 readers to 324,200 from 336,400 or minus 4 per cent.
24's readership rose a little according to this measure, 1,700 readers to 111,900 from 110,200 or plus 2 per cent.
Metro's Edmonton readership rose 24 per cent in the five-day cumulative category to 170,900 from 137,400, a total of 33,500 new readers.
Other dramatic figures in the latest NADBank survey included a 32-per-cent drop in daily readership at the National Post between 2008-2009 and 2009-2010, resulting in a loss of 66,800 readers to 139,800 as estimated by NADBank.
That compared with a 13-per cent drop of 52,900 readers to 354,300 at the Globe and Mail and a 1 per cent drop of 10,900 readers to 963,100 at the Toronto Star. Readership at the Toronto Sun rose 9 per cent by 35,600 readers to 444,900.
While NADBank's practice of adding together on-line readership and print readership to come up with total numbers used to justify print advertising rates does not seem like a legitimate comparison, that is a topic for another day.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.
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