When I first got sucked into the world of publishing metrics in the mid-90s I was amused by the concept of "pass-along," that completely speculative measure of how many people read a dead-tree publication.
"IN AN EFFORT TO PROVIDE better usage data for advertisers, the Newspaper Association of America Monday launched a new initiative to show advertisers that newspapers’ reach exceeds the number of papers they sell. The semi-annual study, called the Newspaper Audience Database (NADbase), counts the average number of people who read the 100 largest newspapers in the country on a given weekday. Rather than providing circulation data–the usual currency by which newspaper advertising is bought and sold–the NAA study also incorporates "pass-along" data, which refers to the number of people projected to read each copy"
I remember asking the circ director at Forbes if that meant a copy of a mag moldering in the waiting room of a dentist was the most valuable in the world, he laughed, and said most of those magazines were complimentary gifts by the publisher to the doctor for just that reason.
Which gets me back to my ongoing rant about the lunacy of metrics in the dead-tree world versus the over-weening specificity of online. Agencies and clients seeking left-handed Latvians at 3 am feel empowered to demand and get quantitative insights into a site’s traffic logs, while the print world continues to depend on specious syndicated research, porous audience research, and flaky circ numbers that would make Enron’s balance sheet more dependable than the Table of Elements.
Here we sit, in the most measurable medium in the history of media, and people wonder why newspapers are going to hell. It comes down to metrics.