When comparing magazines you might get offered conflicting figures on readers and subscribers. These are two very different things, so it’s important to understand the difference and make sure you’re comparing apples with apples, and oranges with oranges.

This is because readers and subscribers are two different ways of looking at a publication’s circulation. Much like apples and oranges, when you know what the differences are you’ll be able to tell them apart and make sure you’re comparing the same thing.

So let’s break down the differences between the two.

A publication’s readership represents the likely reach of a publication. This is usually calculated by contacting a representative sample of people and asking how many people read a single copy of a publication.

Subscribers on the other hand represent the sale or distribution of one copy of a publication. Each subscriber represents one actual physical copy.

Subscribers can be more precisely measured by the Australian Audited Media Association (AAMA) which conducts Circulations Audit Bureau (CAB) and Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) audits.

This provides a definitive number as there is a paper trail to prove at least one person has read the publication.

Measuring the results

Determining a publication’s readership as opposed to subscription base isn’t an exact science and the numbers can be at risk of being fluffed up by an unscrupulous publisher. However, surveys have shown fairly consistently that the industry’s rule of thumb of each magazine being read by an average of 3-4 people, is about right.

Our own research has supported these readership figures. For an advertiser, readership can be a useful way to measure the potential reach of a publication. It is a more accurate representation of reality but a less demonstrable metric.

However, any readership claims should be considered a function of the subscriber base. If a magazine can’t produce evidence of an audited subscriber base, then any readership numbers are meaningless. Reader numbers estimated at between 3.5 and 4 times an audited circulation figure are usually credible.

Similar to comparing apples and oranges, it is meaningless to compare readers to subscribers because they measure very different things. One measures solid, factual numbers, compared to a less tangible extrapolation from incomplete data.

Clarify the numbers

When considering the reach of a publication, compare readers with readers, and subscribers with subscribers. If a publisher is throwing around figures and is not being clear about which one it is, then you should clarify.

Whether they quote readers or subscribers, always check for an official subscriber number from the AAMA in Australia, or equivalent international bodies such as BPA Worldwide. If there isn’t an audited number, walk away, because there’s no way to verify the numbers.

When weighing up the claims of competing magazines, make sure you’re comparing readers with readers, subscribers with subscribers, and not apples with oranges.