Johannesburg - Despite criticism of the new methodology to measure newspaper and magazine readership, the SA Advertising Research Foundation (Saarf) remains adamant that the new system is necessary in the medium to long term.
The new system, DS-Capi (double-screen computer aided personal interview), has yielded inconsistent results, with some newspapers experiencing precipitous readership declines while others registered a rise.
The Daily Sun has lost 700 000 readers according to Amps, and the Sowetan has lost 600 000.
Saarf insists the new system cannot be compared with the old, but the average user finds it difficult to understand why one system says the Sun has 5.1m readers and the other 4.4m - while there has been no loss of circulation. Clearly, one system is wrong - but which one?
Saarf cannot provide an answer. "We can answer the what, but not the why," says technical manager Michelle Boehme.
Jos Kuper of Kuper Research has been critical of the move to a new methodology without proper testing beforehand. "I don't claim the new technology is bad - I do say it is based in untested assumptions."
With DS-Capi, respondents select publications they have read over six months after viewing them on a laptop screen. On the old Capi method, only the interviewer had a laptop. Participants relied on title shuffle packs (small cards with publication names) which were handed out randomly.
Now nine titles appear on the screen simultaneously and are grouped by genre. "This reduces title confusion, especially when it comes to magazines," Boehme states. It was also disclosed that readers were sometimes confused by the weekly and weekend editions of the same newspaper, eg Die Burger and Die Burger Saterdag.
On DS-Capi they appear side by side, providing more clarity.
Not reinventing the wheel
She adds that stakeholders were met with beforehand and informed that there may be some changes to the outcomes. The scrutiny committee, made up of print media owners, marketers and media agencies, had the chance to assess the changes in advance.
Boehme says everyone seemed to be on board when the move was explained. She adds that 72% of the publications have remained unchanged despite the furore.
But Kuper says this means a hefty 28% have changed and that is significant enough. She reports 10% of newspapers and magazines as having decreased significantly, while 19% showed a significant increase.
Boehme says pre-testing would have produced the same results as those now in dispute.
"Should we then have said we won't progress because some people would not be satisfied? We were not reinventing the wheel, it has been used in the UK and they also had similar results in the beginning.
"We didn't move from pen and paper straight to the new methodology so there wasn't a major overhaul in the system." Kuper says diagnostic tests are necessary before deciding whether the new system is an improvement.