Stand up and be counted…. and counted

The Audit Bureau of Circulations — the agency that verifies the copies sold by newspapers and magazines — just announced a new effort to combine print and online audience numbers.

But their logic is off. The Times says that for their first test case, Advertising Age, they “arrived at a figure by combining the publication’s print readership with a day’s worth of its Web site traffic.” The Times also reports that newspapers say this isn’t accurate because it doesn’t account for people who read both the paper and its online site. And I say that measuring only one day is ridiculous, for as many studies have found, very few people come back to online sites every day (and the truth is that they probably didn’t read papers every day, either; it’s just that they were delivered every day). If the goal is to measure total audience — total reach — then this will inevitably fall way short.

I toiled for way too long on the ABC committee that first tried to measure online (I suffered through endless meetings debating the question, ‘What’s a page view?’) As it turned out, advertisers didn’t really care about auditing the audience of online sites — and thus publishers didn’t want to pay for the service. Advertisers care only about auditing their own flights of ads; the wanted to verify that they got what they paid for. And that makes sense. For in an online site, you don’t really care how big the whole site it; you care about how many people your ads reach how many times.

The ABC and other old media players keep trying to use old math with new media. It won’t compute.