Audit Bureau to Begin Tallying Online Newspaper Readership

The main U.S. newspaper auditing group said Tuesday it would begin tallying online readership as well as print-edition circulation in a boost to an industry where advertising sales have suffered from a migration of readers to the Web.

The Audit Bureau of Circulations said it would release newspapers' print, online and combined readership figures. The numbers are a key factor in negotiations on newspaper advertising rates between newspapers and marketers.

An advertiser's main way of gauging a publication's health has been to measure the number of subscribers who buy the print edition each day.

The Audit Bureau releases average paid daily circulation for newspapers twice a year. Those numbers have been declining for years, prompting advertisers to shift more of their print budget to other media outlets.

That trend is expected to continue this week as publishers such as Gannett Co. Inc. and Dow Jones & Co. Inc. are expected to show further declines in print advertising in their quarterly earnings reports.

Publishers, led by the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), have tried to convince advertisers to look at the total amount of readers papers have, including on the Internet.

The audit bureau's decision to include verified figures from tracking firms Scarborough Research, Nielsen//NetRatings and comScore Inc. should please advertisers because of the bureau's reputation for reliability, said John Kimball, chief marketing officer at the NAA.

"There is a sense on the part of advertisers that, with their gold seal of approval, the data is from a credible source," Kimball said.

Some of the numbers that will begin appearing this November include print, online and combined readership, as well as the number of monthly unique visitors to newspaper Web sites, the Audit Bureau said.

Another reason to include the number of people visiting newspaper Web sites is because that number is rising even as print circulation falls.

Media analyst Ken Doctor, at Outsell Inc., said including total readership is a good start, but advertisers and media buyers will need more information to gauge how effective their ads will be on newspaper Web sites.

"What they've got to give media buyers is a sense of frequency," he said. "They have to let people know how often people are visiting what kinds of Web sites for what kinds of content. Combining print and online... may be a milestone, but it's only a first step in what they need to do."