Why Print is now counting on RNI & ABC

In the absence of IRS, print stakeholders and advertisers are banking on numbers shared by RNI and ABC but concerns remain, say industry players

by Chehneet Kaur
Published - May 17, 2024
4 minutes To Read
Why Print is now counting on RNI & ABC

Print circulation figures have been the benchmark for advertisers to decide where the ad money goes and if the choices made have been right. However, in the absence of the Indian Readership Survey (IRS), several advertisers have been going by numbers as per the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) or the Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI).

ABC at its recent meeting decided that submission of audited circulation figures for the audit period January to December 2023 would be ‘Optional’. It further said that non-submission of audited circulation figures for the same period would not affect existing memberships. Publishers now have the freedom to pick and choose numbers to be presented to advertisers and shareholders.

In a recent opinion piece, Dinamalar’s L Adimoolam raised concerns about these numbers. He wrote: “Many leading publications, having dropped huge circulation copies post Covid, have preferred to stay out of ABC as a strategic move. They influence the agency and clients based on perception and not on real numbers.”

RNI & ABC: The Choices

RNI is a certificate issued by the Office of Registrar of Newspapers for India that a publisher needs to run a newspaper company. To make the process easier for the publisher, the government has even digitised the registering of newspapers in India under the PRP Act 2023 via the Press Sewa Portal.

As per the Press Registrar portal, “The approval for Circulation Verification is not solely based on the accuracy of the claimed circulation figures; it takes into consideration the publication's adherence to regulatory norms outlined by the Press Registrar of India.”

The ABC, on the other hand, is a voluntary organisation consisting of publishers, advertisers and advertising agencies as members. It develops audit procedures to certify the circulation figures of publications which are members of ABC.

According to Abhishek Karnani, Director, The Free Press Journal, “Both regulatory authorities grant registration to newspapers certifying their circulation figures. The procedure, checklist and disclosure requirements prescribed by ABC are more stringent. Hence, only a few publishing houses are presently registered with ABC.”

The circulation figures certified by RNI have a 2-year validity period. The ABC audit, on the other hand, is carried out every six months. “RNI has been more lenient in its auditing of circulation figures, whereas ABC has been stringent,” Karnani said.

The ABC took a back seat upon the introduction of the National Readership Survey in 1995 and once the IRS became a quarterly or half-yearly affair, suggested the Business Head of an English daily. However, with no timeline set for the IRS’s return publishing houses seem to be flocking back to ABC.

ABC also gives publishers the flexibility of opting for circulation figures of a particular edition. A publisher may choose to reveal the Chennai edition figures but not that of Mumbai.
“This is one reason why most advertising agencies don't go by ABC because they realise publications are taking an ABC certificate only for the editions that are doing well,” Karnani noted.

ABC is also being used mostly by the government for fixing DAVP rates, said an industry source.

How to make it better

Sharing concerns about circulation figures, Karnani said, “I have been suggesting to the Chairman of ABC, Sundar Swamy, that they should probably make it mandatory for a publication to take into account all the editions. You cannot force anyone to take ABC but if any publication wants to enrol they should not discriminate between editions.”

An industry expert, who did not wish to be named, said the IRS was the best bet to make things credible, transparent and fair. “Publishers will invest in IRS when they feel that it will bring in more money. This can only happen when along with print numbers, digital paper circulation numbers are counted as well.”

ABC can become more relevant if it takes into account digital subscriptions as well, like in the US. But the checks need to be as strict as well, opined another observer.