"The NRS in its current form no longer serves newspaper needs." Not my words but those of Bob Hulks, the ex-independent chairman of the Newspaper Publishers Association Review Group, speaking at the Media Research Group conference back in 1998.
Criticism of how the National Readership Survey is adapting to a fragmenting media landscape is nothing new. What is new, however, is the decision by the UK’s national press groups, via the NPA, to begin the process of moving away from the industry body altogether (more here).
Since its post-war inception in 1956, the NRS has provided the benchmark readership metrics for national and regional newspapers, as well as for magazines. So what to make of the move?
The first thing to note is how reticent the other two core NRS stakeholders – the PPA and the IPA – have been about supporting it. My understanding is that informal talks to re-evaluate what a measurement body fit for the 21st century should look like began between them a year ago.
So to be informed by the PPA’s chief executive, Barry McIlheney, that "we’re not making any comment for now. It’s strictly a matter for Newsworks and the NRS at present" is rather telling.
'In a digital age, when every publisher has web products and tablet editions, to go it alone feels counterproductive'
You can feel the weight of the magazine body’s 230 business and consumer members bearing down on him. Those same disparate voices are no doubt one of the reasons why the NPA has decided to make strides alone.
In many respects, you have to admire the gumption of the NPA: "We’re going this way. You guys are welcome to join us but, regardless, we’re moving." However, it’s a high-risk strategy that threatens to create a schism and comes at a time when the sector can least afford to further complicate the role of planners.
National press ad revenues will fall 10.5 per cent to under £1 billion for the first time in 2014, according Group M forecasts, with regional press expected to slide 8.3 per cent and magazines more than 10 per cent.
The desire for news brands to better-present their cross-platform credentials is understandable. But in a digital age, when every publisher has daily web products, tablet editions and cross-platform solutions, to go it alone feels counterproductive.
Nigel Gwilliam at the IPA hinted at the political tension: "Let’s hope newspapers adopt a collaborative joint industry approach rather than a short-sighted unilateral one."
However it evolves, this is certainly not just a matter for Newsworks and the NRS.
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