Audience: the appropriate measure of circulation quality

The relationship between circulation and audience has puzzled publishers and media researchers for decades. Indeed, the topic has occupied space on the agenda of this symposium since the first meeting in New Orleans in 1981. Even in those antediluvian days before the first Worldwide Readership Research Symposium, the relationship between circulation and audience attracted the attention of such eminent British researchers as Timothy Joyce, Guy Consterdine, John Bermingham, Michael Brown and Colin McDonald. And yet the exact form and function of the relationship has been as elusive as the Holy Grail.
Though it has always seemed to logical and reasonable people (like publishers) that increases or decreases in circulation should, sooner or later, be reflected in commensurate changes in audience levels, empirical demonstration of this relationship has escaped our grasp. Indeed, at the Berlin symposium in 1995, Julian Baim and Bruce Goerlich declared, after investigating 5-year changes in 148 titles measured by MRI, that “All the evidence seems to point in a similar direction; there is no necessary relationship between circulation changes and readership changes�. (Baim and Goerlich, 1995). This declaration echoed similar, if less definitive findings presented at the San Francisco symposium (Gugel; 1993; Goerlich, 1993; Consterdine, 1993). In general, it is safe to say that the seemingly reasonable assumption that circulation changes lead to audience changes has not fared very well.

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