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Merc falls from ‘top 25’ in daily circulation—not that the figures mean much

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Alliance for Audited Media (formerly Audit Bureau of Circulation) is out with new circulation numbers and the Mercury News has fallen out of the top 25 among daily newspapers. Mind you, that’s even counting (in the bogus way MediaNews Group does it) the Oakland Trib, CoCo Times, Marin IJ etc., as “editions” of the Merc for circulation purposes.

Newspaper circulation figures have always been suspect, and never more so than now, with all kinds of tricks employed by publishers to make eyeballs appear as numerous as possible to advertisers. Mathew Ingram posts about the latest circulation antics at PaidContent, which makes you wonder why advertisers put much trust in the figures at all. An excerpt (after the jump):

As Edmund Lee at Bloomberg points out, the AAM survey — which is somewhat ironically locked behind a paywall — also allows publishers to count their readers multiple times, according to rules adopted recently by the group. In other words, newspapers can count someone who reads the newspaper in print, on the web and on their Kindle as three separate readers. But doesn’t this inflate their readership numbers unreasonably? It sure does. The bottom line is that no one really knows what the “real” readership numbers are for newspapers.

Some argue this has always been the case with newspapers, which is true: publishers have routinely engaged in all kinds of shady tricks to boost circulation — including special discounts for bulk purchases by hotels and airlines and other giveaways, and even dumping large quantities into ravines or pulping them after printing. On top of that, many papers have inflated their readership numbers for years by claiming that each copy gets read by as many as five people, an estimate that borders on the ridiculous.

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