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Indian readership surveys: everyone's complaining

By , agencyfaqs! | In Media Publishing | January 19, 2007
What makes publishers so critical of readership surveys? agencyfaqs! tries to find out


Talks & #BANNER1 & # and discussions are on to merge the country's two readership surveys, IRS and NRS. Individually, these surveys are two of the biggest in the world and the merger will make the emerging product even bigger, maybe even the biggest readership survey in the world.

But Indian publishers refuse to be impressed by all this. Considering how much each publisher pays for these surveys, their complaints seem reasonable. Publishers are charged according to the turnover and ad rates of their publications. This implies that a large publisher would have to pay around Rs 35-40 lakh for NRS, depending on the number of editions he has, and another Rs 20-25 lakh for all the IRS data.

Similarly, a mid-sized media company would have to shell out Rs 20-25 lakh for media data from both surveys.

Interestingly, while the IRS charges both the publishers and the media agencies for the media data, the NRS is totally funded by the publishers and gives the media agencies its data totally free of charge.

At the end, the publishers complain that for the high expense they incur, they get two reports with identical format, but different figures.

"Forget about the differences between the two readership surveys, what is unbelievable and unacceptable is the inconsistency that is seen within the same survey after each round," says Maheshwar Peri, president and publisher, Outlook Group.

"One could accept minor bounces in the readership figures for some markets, but when the figures are completely mismatched and fluctuate, it's hard to swallow," adds Peri.

What galls the publishers even further is the fact that the differences in the figures thrown up by the readership surveys are exploited by the media agencies.

"Media agencies conveniently tend to use the survey which throws up the lower readership figures," says N Murali, joint managing director, 'The Hindu'.

Media planners such as Kajal Malik, regional director, OMS, agree with this, but quickly provide a rationale for the practice. She says, "Print is still considered to be a very expensive media and this is the only way one can bargain for the best deal."

Talk to publishers and they are ready to point out other anomalies in the readership surveys. Almost everyone agencyfaqs! spoke to said the surveys favour the marketers' interests more than the publishers'.

So much so that out of the 40 pages in the questionnaire, only two-five pages are dedicated to readership behaviour and trends; the other 35-38 pages help to evaluate other aspects such as the purchase and buying behaviour of consumers, which comes in handy for many marketers.

The reason for this, they say, is that such by-products mean more moolah for the research agencies.

Another anomaly, according to the publishers, is inadequate sample size. Many of them feel that a sample of 500-800 for a city with a population of 1 million plus is not enough. This is irrespective of the fact that the Indian readership surveys have a total sample size of around 2,80,000, which is considered to be one of the largest in the world.

"For a country as big and complex as ours, with so much sociocultural diversity, the existing sample size is too small and not robust enough," says Murali of 'The Hindu'.

He says that the key limiting factor is cost. "A bigger sample size means huge expenditure. Currently, neither research agency is capable of investing huge amounts," he adds.

And with two surveys, even the publishers are reluctant to bear the extra cost.

The publishers are perturbed that the sampling is done on the basis of the Census, which is conducted once in every 10 years. For example, in Delhi, the surveys didn't include the prominent locality of Kalkaji because it was not a part of Delhi's urban agglomerate till the 1991 Census.

A senior industry professional says, "The market undergoes such dramatic changes year on year, and a period of 10 years is quite long. As a result, many urban agglomerations of the main city develop rapidly, but the sampling here is done on a random basis. The truth is that these areas often house quality consumers or population segments."

Meanwhile, the debate on urban and rural representation in the sampling continues. The readership surveys are still skewed towards urban populations. In fact, it was only in 1999 that the NRS included rural areas in its sample for the first time. And that was on demand from the publishers and marketers.

However, some professional such as Tomson J Thundathil, head, market research, Malayalam Manorama Group, offers an explanation for this: "The reason why this has been happening is that urban regions represent a dynamic and diverse market, unlike the rural ones, which are more or less unique."

Over the years, he says, the representation of rural regions has increased, but it is still minuscule. With the growth and development happening in rural India, and more and more regional publication springing up, publishers will now demand much higher rural representation.

This will require more money because the costs involved in surveying rural areas are much higher than in urban areas due to geographical and operational issues.

All said and done, while publishers complain bitterly about the readership surveys, the fact remains that they don't hesitate to flaunt the figures thrown up by the surveys when it suits them. It's all in the game, apparently.

2007 agencyfaqs!