Selling Your Publication
Circulation vs. Readership
Selling Your Publication
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In order to convince a prospective advertiser to run with your newspaper you'll need to have a good understanding of your publication as well as your competitor's publications.

We'll talk about the difference between circulation and readership, if you can trust those numbers, and how helpful market and readership studies can be to furthering the sale. We'll also get into detail about your most likely competitors and their strengths and weaknesses.

As you may remember from the section on rate cards, a newspaper's circulation is simply the number of papers in circulation on an average day, both through subscriptions and newsstand sales.

A newspaper's readership, on the other hand, is almost always a higher number, since it's the newspaper's total circulation multiplied by the average number of people who read each copy. For example, various members of a household may eventually read the same copy of a newspaper or a publication might be passed around from person to person in an office. This "pass-along" rate is generally thought to be about 2.5 readers.

For example, if your newspaper's circulation is 50,000 total readership would be 50,000 x 2.5 or 125,000.

The fact that readership does not equal circulation is confusing to many prospective advertisers and you may find competitive publications taking advantage of that misunderstanding to look bigger than they really are.

Even when advertisers understand the difference, the circulation figures themselves can be exaggerated. Most legitimate dailies and weeklies are audited, meaning they bring in independent auditors, they check everything out, and certify that the circulation the publications claim are true.

In the U.S., there's really just a couple of major companies that everyone recognizes as newspaper circulation auditors, and the one that's used depends on the type of newspaper. Dailies mainly use a company called the Audit Bureau of Circulation, or ABC, for short. Weeklies often use another company called the Certified Audit of Circulation, or CAC. Some advertising agencies and large accounts won't even consider advertising in a product that hasn't been either ABC or CAC audited (though that shouldn't stop you from trying if your publication isn't audited).

Until recently, circulation figures quoted in ABC and CAC audits were considered rock solid. But a number of high-profile FBI investigations with major daily newspapers who seem to have inflated their circulation figures despite using one of these audit companies has cast some doubt on the validity of even these audited figures. In their defense, the audit companies have implemented new systems to make it harder to "cook the books."

Other newspapers simply print their circulation figures in a Publisher's Statement. Newspapers that use the United States Postal Service to deliver their product are required to publish every so often this Publisher's Statement including the total paid and free newspapers that are mailed. Although a Publisher's Statement is also an indicator of circulation, for various reasons some consider its numbers easily manipulated and a bit unreliable. The ABC and CAC audits are still the best bets.

Next: Readership and Market Studies