Globe focuses on ‘quality’ readers while Post starts to rebuild

The bi-annual release of the Audit Bureau of Circulations' newspaper numbers is much anticipated by buyers these days: Many get a real kick out of the vastly different spins presented by the Toronto dailies in their own coverage of the event.

The bi-annual release of the Audit Bureau of Circulations’ newspaper numbers is much anticipated by buyers these days: Many get a real kick out of the vastly different spins presented by the Toronto dailies in their own coverage of the event.

‘Star’s circulation rises as rivals suffer big drops,’ trumpeted the Toronto Star when the unaudited circulation figures for the six months ending Sept. 30 came out on Nov. 1. ‘National Post circulation tumbles 18% over year,’ proclaimed The Globe and Mail on the same day. The Post had its own take, with the lead reading: ‘National Post saw its average paid circulation rise 2.5% in the six months ended Sept. 30, while its national rival, The Globe and Mail, experienced a decline of 5.7% over the same period.’

‘It’s all true,’ says Steve Rosenblum, director of research at Toronto’s HYPN – but some of those interpretations matter more to buyers than others.

What really happened was this: Both the Globe and the Post have seen a drop in circulation when you compare the six months ending in September 2001 with the six months ending in September 2002 (see chart, right). But a closer look reveals that most of The Globe’s loss took place in the bulk and less-than-50%-paid circulation. Meanwhile, the Post has seen its less-than-50%-paid circulation increase while its fully-paid circulation fell.

But even that is misleading, says Rosenblum, because when you compare the latest figures to last September’s numbers, you’re still seeing the drop the Post suffered last year when the editorial was cut and prices were temporarily hiked. Last April, the Post beefed up its editorial in the Toronto market and lowered the price, and a comparison between the ABC figures released in March with those just released show that the Post is effectively recovering.

‘Since March of this year, the National Post is showing a modest increase in Monday to Friday total paid circulation of about 2.5%, which is a small increase, but it’s a drastic change from the declines we’ve been seeing quarter after quarter,’ he says. ‘The most important signal is that the erosion has been brought to a halt, and that’s the first crucial step.’

But Phillip Crawley, publisher of The Globe and Mail, emphasizes that the Post’s increase in bulk may show the paper returning to the bad old days of padded circulations that tend not to show up when NADbank measures how many people are actually reading the paper, rather than how many copies were distributed.

‘What we’ve done is change our strategy and focus on improving our fully-paid – the quality end of our circulation – and to reduce the bulk circulation,’ Crawley says. ‘And if you look at the ABC numbers in conjunction with the NADbank numbers that came out in September, you will see that The Globe actually improved its readership numbers versus last year.’

Doug Checkeris, managing partner at Toronto’s The Media Company, likes the fact that The Globe is focusing on ‘quality’ circulation, but he thinks buyers should give the Post a break while it tries to recover from an admitted mistake.

‘I think the issue is that the Post has acknowledged that they have a problem, and that they’re working to fix it,’ he says. ‘And if you’re going to do that, you have to offer more trial programs. To me that’s sensible. I don’t see anything sinister in that.’

For his part, Peter Leupen, VP advertising sales at the Post, is glad that buyers seem to be willing to give the Post some time to recover.

‘We made a substantial reinvestment in the paper on April 23,’ he says, ‘and if you take a look at the numbers from March and compare our present circulation to that, we look pretty good. You can spin the numbers any way you want, but the hard facts are that since we made the change, we’ve picked up ground on those guys and they can’t dispute that.’

But what about the Toronto Star and its rise in circulation?

Rosenblum says it doesn’t make much difference, since the Star was first choice for reaching the GTA (as opposed to a national audience) before the rise anyway.

Checkeris seems even less impressed. ‘The Toronto Star is in the range they’ve always been in,’ he says. ‘They were a little bit lower at the six months ending March 31, and now they’ve gone back up a little – but they’re just back in their traditional range.’