No One Reads the [Globe/Herald], Continued …

An update in the on-going saga over which paper is losing readers faster

We wondered Wednesday how Boston’s dueling daily newspapers could report on the same day that their own readership was up while readership at their competitor’s paper was declining. A chief reason for the somewhat hilarious discrepancy is that the papers are counting different things. The Globe counted “circulation” or the people who pay them money, while the Herald counted “readership,” the number who read the paper. (One copy of a newspaper could be read by a family of five, for instance.)

Another major difference: they cited different research firms. The Audit Bureau of Circulation’s data, cited by the Globe, was public, but the Herald used internal numbers prepared by a company called Scarborough Research. We checked in with the people at Scarborough, and a spokeperson explained why a figure like “print readership,” which the Herald measured, could differ so drastically with circulation.

“The methodology for data collection is not the same. Scarborough uses a telephone interview to measure newspaper readership,” Scarborough’s Deirdre McFarland tells us. “While clearly related, circulation and readership don’t march in lock step.  We have seen many instances where readership and circulation move in opposite directions.  There could be a number of reasons for this difference. For example, the survey periods don’t exactly match the circulation reporting periods or the circulation geography could differ from the survey geography.”

So basically, the Herald reports that more people are reading the Herald than there were last year, based on telephone interviews. The Globe reports that fewer people are paying for the Herald, based on an ABC report. Neither of them is likely lying to you. But from a financial standpoint, it isn’t great news for the Herald. Their story seems like a piece of defense, written to combat the Globe’s report, which came out first.

As for the Globe’s readership, the Herald got pretty selective with their statistics, ignoring their rise in digital subscriptions, but the Globe wasn’t entirely innocent of spin either. As Boston Business Journal’s Jon Chesto reports:

ABC now allows for some double counting. A print subscriber who regularly logs on to BostonGlobe.com can get counted twice under the Globe’s ABC-approved math — once as a print reader, and once again as a digital “non-replica” reader. There’s even room for triple counting, according to ABC spokesman Neal Lulofs, if a frequent reader chooses another way to access the Globe’s content digitally, such as through an electronic replica of the printed paper.

So the ABC numbers that the Globe uses, while legit, are a bit inflated. The Globe’s paid readership certainly didn’t go up by 12 percent in the past year

So the Globe wants you to know that they are doing alright and the Herald is suffering. The Herald wants you to know that everyone reads the Herald and the Globe is suffering. We want you to know that it is generally a pretty yucky time for newspaper circulation offices, and absent a good source of revenue for their online content, it’s probably an especially yucky one for the Herald.

  • bob

    It’s clearly a terrible time to be in the print newspaper industry, but calling people to ask them if they read The Herald is a ridiculous way to assess how The Herald is supposedly doing when they clearly know how many papers they are selling.

    That’s obviously not how they assess things internally at their finance meetings, and I can’t imagine advertisers let them get away with that in setting their ad rates. Why don’t you call the advertisers and ask them? I’m sure Ernie Boch, Jr. isn’t letting them increase his ad rates due to their supposed “readership spike.”