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21 Jan 2023  (507 Views) 

Discrepancy in circulation figures of SPH
1. There was a lot of discussion in social media over the inflation of circulation figures by SPH. Many people clamored for transparency. They accused SPH of dishonesty in inflating the figures and were indignant that this episode would damage the reputation and integrity of Singapore.

2. I did not join in the accusation. I usually do not give a negative opinion when the facts are not clear. I am also not enthusiastic about defending Singapore's reputation and integrity, as I have some doubts over this matter.

3. A recent news report provided the following information.

- There was an overstatement of 49,000 average daily copies of news titles that was recorded as circulation numbers but not distributed. Most were digital copies. It amounts to 5 per cent of total daily circulation.

- There was an inflation of 5,000 average daily copies recorded after contracts had lapsed

- There was a difference of 17,000 between the reported circulation and the actual usage recorded by SPH Media's system

- There is a possible discrepancy of 19,000, which included a barter arrangement with another publisher

4. This is my perspective of the above figures.

a) 49,000 (mostly digital copies) were not distributed. Is there a need to "distribute" a digital copy? Could the subscriber access it by login to the website?

b) 5,000 copies were counted after the contracts have lapsed. Maybe they were kept alive for a few days or weeks in case the subscriber acts to renew and pay for it?

c) It is not clear whether the discrepancy of 17,000 is included in the 19,000.

5. If I were to include all the above figures, the total discrepancy amounts to slightly less than 10 percent of the reported circulation (which I estimate to be 1 million). It appears to me that the figures are not grossly inflated.

6. Let me explain what I understand about "circulation" in this environment.

a) The circulation includes print and digital copies over several newspaper titles

b) The circulation may includes paid subscriptions and free subscriptions.

c) The circulation includes copies sent to new agents who sell them at the news stands. Some may be subject to returns.

d) The subscriptions may be activated and payment has not been received, or may have lapsed and are kept for some time pending action to renew them.

The counting of the "circulation" is a matter to be decided by management policy, following industry practice.

7. There was a suggestion that the advertisers might have been misled to pay a higher advertising fee based on the inflated circulation. I do not think that this is a concern as the discrepancy is less than 10% and would probably be accepted as "industry practice".

8. It is generally unwise for a new management to challenge the decisions taken by a previous management over matters that rely on management judgment. 

Tan Kin Lian


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