Is Indian Readership Survey meaningless?

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Dear Yashwant Bhai, am forwarding you a great article about IRS. It is written by Himanshu who is a product of Mudra Institute of Communication, you can cross check his credentials. We very often curse to TRPs but what about Print Media? A clear cut measurement system is missing everywhere.

I never meet anybody personally who has ever even seen/filled IRS form. It could be great debate, plz tag must on this article because its in English so many people may overlook it. I would also like to raise an issue that not only IRS but ABC is also a corrupted system. For example Haribhoomi hardl circulates 5,000 copies in Jabalpur but it claims Number -2 position in Jabalpur which is just a mockery of entire system. I would be happy if you DO NOT publish my name because I also work with a Print house.


Is Indian Readership Survey meaningless?

Himanshu Kumar

The latest round of IRS (Indian Readership Survey) results are in recently. At the outset, these survey figures try to give an idea of how many and what category of readers read a particular magazine, newspaper or listen to a particular FM radio channel. Millions and millions of rupees are spent out of marketing departments based on these readership surveys. But what is the ground reality? What is the ROI? and what is the way forward?


If you’re a marketer, obviously you need some kind of barometer to judge whether the monies that you’ve spent or running advertisement spots on TV, newspapers, magazines or online has worked for you or not. But since it’s almost impossible to measure that whether every single person who’s watched the latest advertisement for Toyota Corolla during latest FIFA world cup has been positively influence by the advertisement or not, Everyone from the marketers to media agencies have decided to spend money based on an approximate estimation of number of people who watched the advertisement; thereby believing that

If a person has watched my ad –> He/she is more likely to buy the product.

However, in reality, it hardly happens. The person might simply also

1. Skip: Not see the advertisement even though he flipped through the newspaper

2. Dislike: hate the advertisement – hence, deciding against buying your brand.

3. Ignore: be not interested by the advertisement and ignore it

Still this game of pouring billions of dollars into advertising continues. Why? Because there is no sure-shot way of measuring the ROI. Yes, some of you might try to argue that Digital is the panacea of all these evils but at the end of the day.. it also has its limitations. Also, just because something can be measured better does not make it better impact medium. Would you like watching the latest round of FIFA matches / IPL matches on your 42 inch HDTV or a dumb youtube screen on your laptop?

What is the reality like?

Since I’m currently working in the Indian Media & Entertainment industry, I’m much more aware of inner workings of the industry. IRS conducted by MRUC (Media Research & User council) surveys close to 250,000 readers and tries to find out about their lifestyle, their household habits, and the kind of publications, magazines and media channels they consume.

However, the survey faces three sets of problems:

Survey respondents

Reaching out to the Affluents: IRS survey is close to 50-60 pages long and takes about 4-5 hours to fill on a conservative side. Now, which working affluent Indian can today afford to spend 5-6 hours with a market researcher just to finish a dumb survey which is not going to help his/her life at all. In lower income households, it can be assumed that goodies worth Rs. 50-60 ($1 -$2) might act an incentive to sit through a tortuous survey, but about people who are Senior executives, CEOs, etc. Forget it!!

Niche Publications

Almost 90% of niche magazines in India have opted out of IRS. The reasons are not difficult to understand:

Competition In the short run, it is very difficult to dislodge the market leader who gets the lions share of Advertising spends. So, for example, Times of India get the highest amount of money in Mumbai and combined with its excellent marketing, it generally ends up getting more readers also. Hence, Good newspapers like Indian Express, etc. suffer since their readership figures go down and they’re hammered for rates. Similarly, in case of magazines, a possibility of lower readership figures in future readership figures signals doom in terms of its rates with advertisers.

Lies! Lies! Lies! Most of the niche lifestyle magazines in India claim to print copies so high that their printers would not be able to print in their lifetime. So, even though they actually print 5000-15000 copies, they generally claim to print in excess of 1 lakh copies. Why? Because most of the niche titles in India are licensed titles from Firangs. So, in case if the foreign owners of the title (e.g. let’s say Maxim US) decide to withdraw title from the market, all the investments made by the local partner would go down the drain. Also, since everyone lies about their circulation numbers, it has become a curse to speak the truth since the one portraying the part of Harishchandra is bound to be killed by Marketers and Media agencies.

Conde’ Nast India tried to change this by getting their publications Vogue and GQ audited by KPMG. But again, even they didn’t opt for getting validated by IRS. Hence, I refuse to believe their circulation number of 50000 and 30000 for Vogue and GQ respectively; since these circulation figures might be simply for the peak months such as October or December only.

Clients and Media Agencies

Commissions The media agencies earn their revenues by getting a 15% cut from the client spends. So, for them, any kind of advertising spend is good as long as they can justify it to the client. Even though none of the niche magazines get covered in IRS, it does not mean that they don’t have any readers. Hence, media agencies and clients take calls on niche magazines based on their own judgements. Hence, the discrediting of IRS as an audience measurement currency gets complete.

What is the Future

IRS is the only currency as of now in India for measuring audiences in case of print. Hence, it would continue to prevail. However, it has also become an excuse for lazy marketers and media agencies who don’t want to go to the market and understand consumer pulse; but rather want to look at random excel sheets to decide on what their consumer wants and needs are.

However, the younger generation today spends more time online, social media, as well as on niche magazines. World over, dailies and newspapers have suffered dip in readership numbers and the trend is bound to happen in India eventually. If the IRS fails to capture these two medium, it’s bound to be irrelevant for a lot of marketers.

Verdict: Meaningless – maybe not, Irrelevant – Yes, in near future

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Comments on “Is Indian Readership Survey meaningless?

  • Its worth appreciable but at the same time future will have some

    different measurement technique for print industry also and hope Agency,

    Clients and Media houses takes notes of the same.


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