One Trick For Evaluating Readership Numbers

When I first realized that advertising would become a focus of my career, I was in part drawn in by the relatively numeric world of digital advertising. I liked that it was easy to base all of your work on an actual number of users, and it seemed reassuring to be able to know what was happening with the content that you produced.

Over the years as my scope of practice has grown, I’ve had to learn the nuances of the way this same information is communicated differently in different mediums.

A few years ago, I was learning how to buy print. It was then that I first encountered the idea of a readership number. It was explained to me that a magazine publisher knew (roughly) how many issues it produced and how many were distributed. With a bit of work the team publishing a magazine could also know what percentage of run went to homes and what percentage went to places like waiting rooms where it was likely to be seen by multiple people.

A readership number then, was an estimate of how many people actually read the content in any given issue.

While this definition might encourage the comfort of feeling as though there were some sort of consistency into the assumed number of readers per issue, I’ve yet to get the same multiple from any one publisher. Some hold to the average of 4, others report the subscriber number and others come up with justifications I’ve heard for as high as 12x.

Trouble is there are just some situations where you don’t have a choice. 
If a strategy demands a certain publication, you need it — no two ways about it.

One trick I’ve found incredibly helpful in these situations is to compare the readership and subscribership numbers. Once you’ve figured out how much the figure is inflated, you can check another source to reference the audience size.

While you can’t always find an exact match, I’ve found that comparing the number of people interested in “bicycles” on Facebook to the number of people a magazine claims as readers (and then both numbers to the total (avg cost/total sales size) number of bicycle sales) can often prove a beneficial exercise.

While it won’t tell you exactly how many people you’re about to reach it should get you a little bit closer to reality than the more optimistic sales figure often is.

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