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Papers Strive to Gauge Audience

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CHICAGO Audience-FAX, a new measurement that combines newspaper circulation, readership and online audience, is not an attempt to paper over the bad news about circulation, newspaper execs figures argued Monday.

In a conference call introducing the new metric, leaders of the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) and audience measuring services, advertisers and newspapers asserted that the new audience metric calls attention to the "full reach" of papers at a time when much of the media attention is on the decline of newspaper sales.

"Part of the reason it was created is, we think we haven't done the job we should in marketing this industry," said Stephen P. Hills, president and general manager of the Washington Post. "More people will read the Washington Post [and other papers] this Sunday than will watch the Super Bowl. The focus has been on the decline, as opposed to what is our overall reach."

Audience-FAX is another indication that newspapers "are increasingly successful in building Web audience, but, and this should be no surprise to anyone, [their] circulation has been steadily declining," said Bob Cohen, president and CEO of Scarborough Research, which partnered with ABC and NAA in developing the metric.

Research shows that newspapers are gradually replacing their lost circulation with Web audience, and "in a few cases" replacing their print audience with a bigger number of Internet users, Cohen added. The Web is also bringing a younger audience to newspapers, Cohen said.

Audience-FAX is the most dramatic step yet in ABC's evolution from its creation as an auditor of the sales of newspaper copies to the less-concrete measurement of audience.

"Today marks a very important day in measuring the strength of newspaper audience and the value that newspapers offer to our advertisers," NAA president and CEO John Sturm said. He called Audience-FAX a "broad and inclusive initiative of measurement data that offers the full reach of newspapers."

Because this is a first-time measurement, it is impossible to say whether it shows that newspapers' audience is growing, or—as circulation numbers have suggested for the better part of a decade—the industry is experiencing an ongoing decline.

"Is circulation becoming less relevant? The answer is absolutely not," Dave Walker, CEO of the big advertising buyer Newspaper Services of America, said in the conference call. But advertisers are "extremely excited" about finally having a "single access place where we have quantitative and qualitative measurements for newspaper."

Some 206 dailies are participating in the voluntary Audience-FAX program. That's about 29 percent of the dailies that report circulation in ABC's FAS-FAX semi-annual statements. Twenty-two of the 25 largest dailies are participating, although two of the biggest national papers—USA Today and The Wall Street Journal—are not in the program.

Audience-FAX divides papers into two tiers, the first comprised of dailies in 81 syndicated Scarborough-measured markets that meet ABC's Reader Profile standards. The rest are in the tier two category.