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IRS 2019 Q1: The curious case of variation in total readership metric

IRS 2019 shows there’s a huge variation between AIR and TR numbers of newspapers. For example, for TOI, the TR is almost three times more than AIR. For The Hindu, it is four times more. Experts say there is less of loyal readership when the difference between TR and AIR is higher. analyses

It’s a known fact that the total readership (TR) of newspapers is higher than their average issue readership (AIR) and advertisers choose publications for their campaigns based on AIR and not TR. But newspapers still go to town publicising their TR numbers.

For the uninitiated, the basic difference between AIR and TR is that with AIR, the interviewee from the sample is asked which newspaper he/she read the previous day. TR is calculated on the question: which newspaper he/she read in the last one month (even once).


Now, an interesting fact emerging from IRS 2019 is that for some papers, their TR is as high as four times their AIR. For others, it is either thrice of twice that of their AIR.

Sample this. The Hindu has an AIR of a little more than 16 lakh, whereas its TR is 62 lakh, around four times. In case of Times of India, the AIR is a little over 56 lakh, whereas the TR is 1.52 crore, almost a three-time jump.


The pertinent question here is that if the AIR is the industry metric, why do papers publicise their TR? Do they actually gain anything from it or end up losing something? Experts say that it is to win the battle of perception and confuse and average reader between the AIR and TR terminologies.

Ever since IRS 2019 has been launched, the Hindu has been widely publicising its TR and not AIR.

In the absence of data for Hindustan Times, The Hindu is the second largest English daily in the country in terms of both AIR and TR. In AIR, it is almost 3.5 times smaller than TOI. In TR it is almost 2.5 times smaller than TOI.

High variation between TR and AIR means less numbers of loyal readers


Experts say the strategy of publicising TR could backfire as it shows the Hindu has more of casual readers and less of serious readership. “If TR is four times the AIR, It does not mean that The Hindu enjoys a better readership. In fact, it can be quite the contrary,” an industry expert said.

The expert said the TR could be a function of the familiarity of the masthead, making Hindu’s masthead more popular among the infrequent readers.

“There is less of loyal readership when the difference between TR and AIR is higher because there are many more infrequent readers. In this case, as per IRS 2019, it is TOI’s advantage with better loyalty of readers,” the expert added.

Why is TR so unpredictable?

The experts say that even if there’s not one metric, the period of readership should be defined and emphasised properly during the survey so the interviewee could give a more reliable answer.

“The whole problem is that people say yes even if they are not reading the paper. They forget that the question is pertaining to one month. They casually say yes they were reading. A question is being asked for one month but their answer goes beyond that period. The period is not being emphasised enough. In this case, established mastheads will get higher TR,” the expert added.

He added that the survey that used to be done by Hansa data was never so questionable and there was more consistency in terms of difference between the AIR and TR. “Whereas, there’s a lot of variation in the Neilsen data,” he added.

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