Johannesburg - There's a flutter in the henhouse over the new, "improved" methodology for the All Media and Product Survey (Amps) which surveys readership of newspapers and magazines.
More than half the country's newspapers have seen readership figures decline, and a third have seen them rise - all because of the new system. And some have experienced precipitous drops - by as much as 40%. The Daily Sun has lost 700 000 readers according to Amps, and the Sowetan has lost 600 000.
"Paid and audited circulation - the only figures one can prove and take seriously - show no corresponding decline," harrumphs Sun publisher Deon du Plessis.
"Circulation figures are what really count."
Jos Kuper of Kuper Research complains that the new methodology was introduced without testing it.
"Surely we must stop and evaluate where we are, based not on assumptions but on proper testing?" she asks.
"The SA Advertising Research Foundation (Saarf) has imported a methodology used in France, Belgium and the UK, but apparently not in other developing countries."
With the new Capi system participants can see the various publications on screen instead of being listed on paper. This is expected to yield more accurate results by reducing any confusion. Weekly and weekend titles appear side by side so it's clear to the respondents which one is being referred to. For example Die Burger and Die Burger Saterdag would appear alongside one another.
Emerging market publications are still charging ahead, out-performing their mainstream counterparts. Magazines such as Move, Bona and Vukuzenzele have shown significant increases in readership.
Vukuzenzele provides information on opportunities available to the public via government and includes entertainment. It is published by Government Communications and Information Systems. Saturday newspapers registered a significant drop, and this was put down to the new methodology.
The Daily Sun's readership fell from 5.1 million to 4.4 million.
Soccer mania is another factor which has impacted on readership numbers. Soccer publications such as Soccer Laduma have shown significant increases. It seems anything linked to the sport is gold at the moment according to the report. While more people in general are claiming to read newspapers and magazines, less are reading both weekly and weekend newspapers.
The internet continues its growth with one in two people going online over a seven day period. But the technology gap remains unchanged with these users being high income households (LSM 9 and 10). One in four out of the general population makes use of a computer in the same time period. Cellphones, which have been hailed as possessing the ability to level the playing field when it comes to internet access, are still growing.
SMS, downloads and web usage are on the up. Camera and video usage also remains high; lower income groups are explained as fuelling the tendency because they use their phones instead of buying cameras and video recorders since they can't afford them. Radio and TV findings mirrored Rams (radio audience measure) and Tams (television audience measure) releases. The first registered a decrease and the second an increase.
The Amps sample size has been increased to 12.48 million from 11.39 million. The higher number of participants is expected to provide more accurate results for Saarf which conducts the survey.