New Delhi: Looking at the figures of the Indian Readership Survey, including the ones where it is shown that there are publications whose readership numbers are actually lower than their circulation numbers, you cannot but laugh at the obvious silliness of it all, especially that it took a nationwide survey to find out what is a simple truth in the industry.
Circulation and readership figures of a publication are like Rekha’s age —what you see and what you imagine it to be is way off the mark from what it is in reality.
But Rekha’s age — this is one of the advantages of regular use of botox — can be found out by simply carbon dating her skeleton that attends all the award functions. Readership numbers, on the other hand, are harder to gauge. In general, they are arrived at by taking the circulation (total number of copies that a publication prints), probably multiply it by four, and after that — it becomes simple from here — they add some random numbers and allow the whole thing to dry under concentrated Duckworth and Lewis formula.
OK, nobody knows how these things are actually worked out. But media houses are seeing red over the new readership survey, in which some publications have come out in particularly unflattering relief and hence want it to be summarily withdrawn.
The numbers in the survey are alarming enough for top heads in media houses to scramble into emergency action and salvage the situation, which they will by sticking to the popular adage: When the going gets tough, the tough call for a meeting in the conference room.
And this is honestly what we believe would have happened in the meeting hall (of most publications) if everyone had honestly spoken their mind:
(The mood is sombre. The Editor looks slightly ashen. That may be also because his old constipation problem had kicked in that morning. Or he might have listened to some new Tamil film songs on the way to office. The CEO, in true management school style, looks faux cheery. The marketing big heads are armed with their PPT presentations while senior editorial hands have come ready with matching cynicism and indifference)
CEO: Gentlemen, without much ado let me get to the point of saying without much ado, which is the traditional line to get any official meeting going. I suppose you would have gone through the readership survey. We believe it is totally wrong and we need to undo the damage it has caused to our publication. How to go about this process is broadly why we have gathered for the meeting this morning.
Editor: For starters, we can write a strong front-page double-Edit, stridently rebuking the agency responsible for the faulty survey, drawing its attention to the unmistakable lacunae, pointing to the various shambolic conclusions…
Response Head: (Quickly interjecting) An editorial on the front page? Why? I mean why do you want to lose even the few people who are still reading the newspaper? Also, if editorials ever really worked, there would not be any corruption and TB cases in the world, as edit writers across papers are forever penning about them.
Associate Editor: The survey lacks transparency and is devoid of scientific base. We should seek a full-fledged ban on such things. We must rally the entire industry against this.
CEO: That sounds suspiciously like what Mulayam is expected to say when we publish the election opinion poll in Uttar Pradesh next month.
Marketing Director: Allow me to go beyond this survey. Even without these numbers, it is obvious that we are losing readership. I think it’s time we addressed that core issue. We have to treat the disease not the symptom.
(No meeting is ever complete without one Mr. Obvious bringing this line up from the Cliché Manifesto for Dummies)
Deputy Editor: (Looking at the Marketing Director) Since you seem to know more about journalism than we do, you can as well tell us how to write and what to write.
(There is an uneasy silence as the room is awash with the sarcasm that gushed forth from the Deputy Editor. But, in general, marketing men don’t get sarcasm and so…)
Marketing Director: The stories need to be pushy and punchy. Without meaning any offence to anyone here I must say, don’t write what you like, write what people like. The consumer, in this case, the reader, is the king.
(This is one of the problems of allowing people who sold biscuits and shampoos to handle newspapers. They don’t grasp the nuance between pushing a plebeian consumer good and offering a cerebral product. Marketing people should understand that the major difference between, say, soap and newspaper is people can actually do without the latter)
Associate Editor: The last time when the same suggestion for giving people what they wanted came from the marketing department, we went ahead and created a special weekly section for mobiles and modern gadgets, and you know what happened. The sales of smart phones went up and even those who were reading us switched over to twitter and facebook. And then there was this helpful idea to tap into twitter wisdom for news stories. Now, all papers, not just us, have more twitter than there is twitter in twitter itself. Ditto with our coverage of movies. Now Akshay Kumar films are making in a weekend that our entire newspaper industry cannot make in a full year.
(The Associate Editor then proceeds to update — furtively operating his mobile from under the table — his personal twitter account with the message: * sigh * Caught in yet another formal meeting where they are talking about Bollywood films )
Editor: I think this is heading nowhere. We are going around in circles. We are not here to blame others. We are here to find a solution, which is what is needed in this hour of emergency. Talking of which, it is time for our lunch. We will adjourn for it and resume the meeting in the afternoon.
(The meeting will indeed continue after the break with more brainstorming and heated exchanges, and the paper will eventually decide to issue a press release, condemning the survey. And in the long run, the paper will also resolve to thoroughly overhaul the paper, which, by common consensus, will be through: Change of fonts and layout. The meeting will also agree to have more interactions between the marketing and editorial departments. The HR representative, in a thoughtful move, will announce an outing for both the departments as a bonding exercise. More often than not, it will be over an Akshay Kumar movie over the weekend)
(Disclaimer: Crank’s News thanks the National Readership Survey for ranking it the number one humour column among those who don’t read).