This week NADbank reported that readership of daily newspapers in Canada was significantly lower than levels reported last year for the same markets. In fact in Toronto, three of the city's four newspapers experienced a "marked decline" in their weekday readership, with the Globe and Mail hit the hardest, while the Toronto Sun (tabloid) suffered only a slight drop. The culprit, according to NADbank executive director Anne Ruta, was increased print media choices offered by the transit dailies. In total, the three freebies garnered a gross weekday readership of nearly 500,000 adults (gross because there is likely duplication in the numbers reported).
What the press release to Marketing did not mention is that other markets, including ones with no transit dailies to blame, also had significant weekday readership declines year after year. Headlines in the Vancouver Sun and Province where I live, for example, touted increased weekly cumulative numbers, while admitting that their average issue readership had gone down.
As people who follow polls know, all research studies report margins of error on the results that are produced, and NADbank (as well as ComBase) is no different. Small fluctuations are expected in even the most rigorously conducted surveys arising from the simple fact that you cannot interview everyone. What you gain in one year, you may lose the next - in NADbank - within plus or minus five per cent or so. The difference this year is the magnitude of the drops, the purported impact of the transit dailies and the newspapers that were affected.
The Globe and Mail lost more than 125,000 average issue readers (21 per cent); the National Post lost 18.2 per cent of its readers while the Toronto Star had a 13 per cent drop. The Toronto Sun saw a drop within the margin of error for Toronto - 4.5 per cent. Opinion varies on this one, but logic seems to say that the newspaper that should have experienced the biggest loss is the one that is similar in distribution and profile as the transit dailies - the Toronto Sun.
Yet, that's not what happened. Newspapers with high levels of home subscription and lower levels of transit users in their reader profiles reported the worst results. Add to that the fact that transit dailies are not a factor anywhere else and one is left puzzling over the seemingly contradictory results. To add to the confusion, the Globe and Post also lost readers on the national front.
Let's hope that the dailies' loss is our gain as we go into field with ComBase.
[Elena Dunn is the Project Manager for ComBase.]