Being marketing professionals, we are all familiar with the concept of GRPs – Gross Rating Points – that serves as the common currency for electronic media buying. However, for print media (newspapers and magazines) we don’t have GRPs available. Earlier in 1950’s marketers used to allocate their print media spend based on circulation numbers, which could not account for multiple readers of the same copy of any newspaper or magazine. Eventually in the 50’s researchers in Britain came up with the idea of a “National Readership Survey”, commonly known as the NRS.

NRS is aimed to provide marketers accurate reach of all print mediums that could be used as print currency to allocate print media budgets accordingly. Globally, NRS is conducted either using recall based methodology or through the Diary method. In most countries, NRS is carried out using a nationally representative sample although the frequency differs from monthly to yearly in different countries.


I believe two markets can illustrate a good example for Pakistan. UK, which pioneered the survey can be a good benchmark; and India, being a closely similar market.

First, it is worth understanding how the NRS in UK is organised. The following three associations have formed a not for profit organization, NRS Ltd., which is governed and largely funded by these three stakeholders.

  • Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA)
  • News Media Association (NMA)
  • Professional Publishers Association (PPA)

A clear indication here is that all key stakeholders i.e. print media sellers as well as buyers are aligned, which helps establish NRS as the only print media currency in UK.

Next, we look at how NRS UK is conducted in detail and what it provides. This will help us understand what is missing in our market.


NRS publishes readership estimates for over 230 publications including Dailies, Weeklies, Monthlies etc.


34,150 interviews a year with adults aged 15 plus. The sample respondents are selected randomly.


It is a continuous survey and the fieldwork is carried out 12 months of the year, 7 days a week with face to face interviews being conducted at respondents’ households. The interview uses the Double Screen CAPI (DS-CAPI) technology through which all prompt material is shown to participants on a tablet screen that is controlled by the interviewer’s laptop via a radio link.

Information Coverage

The survey participants answer questions about their consumption of print media; including a list of news brands, newspaper supplements and magazines, as well as their online behaviour and how they consume other forms of media. Also, they answer questions about their demographics and lifestyle.

Respondents’ Incentive

All participants are offered a £20 gift voucher.


The most important output of the NRS survey is Average Issue Reach (AIR) which is used as print currency. AIR is simply a count of the number of people who have read or looked a daily newspaper within the past 24 hours, a weekly newspaper or magazine during the past 7 days, a fortnightly magazine within the last 15 days, a monthly magazine during the past 30 days, a bi-monthly within the last 2 months and a quarterly within the last 3 months.

The data is calculated to form the AIR score for a particular publication. Deliverables also include average number of readers per copy of a publication, which are calculated using reach and circulation numbers provided by the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC). Reader profiles are also a key part of the standard deliverables. The data is delivered on a quarterly basis.

The Digital Measurement

In order to accurately capture readership count through digital media, ComScore, a web traffic monitoring company, collects online audience data, which is fused with NRS’ recall data to form an accurate AIR score. ComScore also classifies the type of device (mobile, tab etc.) through which digital versions of print publications are consumed.

I covered NRS UK in great detail for benchmarking the print readership survey of our market  using methodologies that can be learnt from it. However, reviewing Indian Readership Survey (IRS) is equally important as our market and the methodologies we are using are quite similar to India.


IRS is conducted by MRUC (Media Research Users Council) and RSCI (Readership Studies Council of India). IRS is done as a Single Source Study i.e. in the same survey, brand consumption of more than 100 FMCG’s, service sector products and durables are analysed; and detailed media consumption of almost all key vehicles including TV, radio, internet and print is covered. The interviews are conducted using DS-CAPI method as face to face interactions at respondents’ households. A huge sample of over 235,000 interviews is conducted every year of individuals aged 12+.

The fieldwork is conducted almost throughout the year i.e. ten months while data is delivered to the subscribers on a quarterly basis. India also uses “AIR” as its print currency, only it is calculated based on how many individuals read or looked at a newspaper within the last 30 days or read or looked at magazines within the past year. Hence, IRS follows milder readership criteria versus UK’s NRS.

One can expect that with such a huge sample, the results would be well accepted and respected by all stakeholders. Yet, as I mentioned earlier, our markets are very much alike even in case of problems: The last results released in January 2014 received a flood of criticism by 18 major print media houses who challenged the results to be inaccurate with doubts cast that the data was rigged. The research revealed that overall readership had declined from 353 million to 281 million readers, with certain newspapers standing out as market leaders in areas other than their base towns. This fiasco escalated so much that some publishers actually took stay orders from the court demanding the results to be withdrawn.

A committee was formed to revalidate the results which confirmed that there were some problems with the data since certain interviewers’ failed to capture responses accurately. However, MRUC was able to get clearance on the data and the abeyance got lifted in August 2014. This was done with a disclaimer that the results should not be compared with the previous waves, as earlier data was based on Census 2001 and the latest release was based on Census 2011. Knowing this backdrop, we can review NRS in Pakistan to see where it stands compared to these markets.

 National Readership Survey in Pakistan

As far as I know, the first NRS was conducted in 2006 in Pakistan by the international research agency MEMRB, which is now a part of Nielsen after acquisition. MEMRB later made NRS a part of their single source study called “Consumer Multimedia Index – CMi”, launched in 2008,  commissioned and endorsed by Pakistan Advertisers Society.  A number of efforts were made to take major publication houses and media buying houses on-board before the study was executed. This study was initially conducted bi-annually with a sample of 10,000 respondents in urban Pakistan but later on, in 2010, its frequency was reduced to being an annual survey. This reduction in frequency was traded off with an additional sample of 5,000 interviews covering rural Pakistan. Since 2012, Ipsos Pakistan has been conducting this study after acquisition of MEMRB by Nielsen and the latest results for the period 2014-15 are available, covering a total sample of 15,000 respondents aged 12+.

The results are released as an annual report only. The print currency is based on daily, weekly or monthly reach, but in most cases, media planners work with the monthly reach only whose underlying concept is similar to what India is following for its newspapers. AIR is not used in Pakistan; yet during the last decade, NRS has been conducted by other agencies, Oasis-MRB, for instance, but none of these studies were registered as the print currency which is why I have chosen to discuss CMi to compare our NRS with other markets. In order to identify the gaps, both Pakistan and India are compared with UK as presented on the facing page, where phrases accompanied by an asterisk (*) indicate areas of improvement with respect to benchmarks.

The table below shows areas of improvement in national readership surveys of Pakistan & India, marked with an asterisk (*), compared to UK as the benchmark.

NRS UK IRS India CMi Pakistan
Organization Not for profit entity None None
Endorsing / Controlling Authorities ·  Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA)

·  News Media Association (NMA)

·  Professional Publishers Association (PPA)

·  MRUC (Media Research Users Council)

·  RSCI (Readership Studies Council of India)

·  Pakistan Advertisers Society (PAS)


Methodology DS-CAPI DS-CAPI Pen & Paper
Recall Method Title Mastheads Title Mastheads List of publications
Target Respondents Aged 15+ Aged 12+ Aged 12+
Sample (Yearly) 34,150 235,000 15,000
Sample Selection Random through postal address database Random through electoral Randomly selected household in each area
Data Projection Census 2011 Census 2011 Census 1998
Information Coverage ·  Reading Habits

·  Brief Media Habits

·  Lifestyle / Demo

·  100+ Category Consumption

·  Detailed Media Habits

·  Lifestyle / Demo

·  100+ Category Consumption

·  Detailed Media Habits

·  Lifestyle / Demo

Avg. Interview Time 27 minutes 30 Minutes 90 Minutes
Respondent’s Incentive £20 None None
Digital Readership Recall based + Data fusion with web audience measure Recall based Recall based
Reporting frequency Quarterly Quarterly Yearly
Key Reporting Measures ·  “Air” based on

o Dailies – Yesterday

o Weeklies – P7D

o Monthlies-P1M

·  Avg. Reader / Copy

·  “Air” based on

o newspaper – P1M

o Magazines-P1Y


·  Avg. Reader / Copy

·  All publications-P1M

Key actions based on these observations may help improve print currency stature and acceptance in Pakistan

  • Firstly, note the organization of the survey body. It is evident that NRS UK is free of all controversies as all stakeholders (media buyers and sellers) are formally on-board. Whereas in India, the recent results were criticised by all major publishers as they were not brought on-board formally from the beginning. Similarly, in Pakistan the survey is only endorsed by PAS and publishers or media buying houses are not formally part of the governing body which is critical to regulate the industry through NRS results.
  • Secondly, we need to take a technological leap and introduce DS-CAPI based interviewing. This will help save interview time and reduce survey errors. Besides this, the visual aid issue; i.e. showing respondents a list of names versus masthead visuals of publications, will also be resolved once we move to DS-CAPI since seeing visual elements improves feedback quality.
  • Thirdly, the sample size used for gauging readership in Pakistan is another challenge to look into. Although our population is three times higher, our sample size is less than half of UK. An increase will help adjust the frequency of the report as a larger sample could be spread over the entire year and allow for the production of quarterly reports on a rolling basis spread across 12 months.
  • Fourthly, the non-availability of census data is another major issue in Pakistan. IRS lost its comparability as soon as the projections were shifted from the census conducted in 2001 to 2011. Keep in mind that it has been 18 years since we had our last census.
  • Ideally, the NRS should be done independently instead of making it a part of a single source survey as the information load certainly has an impact on the data quality.
  • I firmly believe that digital readership is rapidly increasing in Pakistan and eventually the growing importance of this medium demands that we align digital readership recall data and fuse it with Web Audience Measurement.
  • AIR – Average Issue Reach should be aligned with UK standards and used as the currency. Comparing the reach of both, newspapers as well as magazines based on the past month’s readership does not give apples to apples comparison between the two formats.
  • Lastly, we do not have an established count of average readers per copy due to inaccurate circulation data, which again, is generally believed to be highly overclaimed as print quota is allocated based on the claimed circulation.

Whether it is increasing the sample, adopting DS-CAPI method, introducing incentives for respondents or introducing practices to standardize any other factors; every such upgradation depends on how much money the industry is willing to invest in order to develop a state-of-the-art print readership measurement system.

On the other hand, inducting media buyers and sellers formally in the NRS regulatory authority; having a fresh census conducted; carrying out regular media audits and obtaining correct estimates of circulation numbers involves a great deal of politics.

However, I do believe we are on the right track given our limitations; having an adequate print currency even if it is not ideal!

Next articleNo education for the wicked
Ahmer is the Founder and CEO of Markematics, and the first elected President of Marketing Research Society of Pakistan (MRSP). He is a leading marketing, research and strategy consultant in Pakistan and abroad with over 18 years of experience. He was instrumental in establishing Nielsen and MEMRB in Pakistan and has rich client-side experience with GlaxoSmithKline and Eli Lilly.