Commonly Used Statistics May Not Mean What You Think
“He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lampposts – for support rather than for illumination.” – Andrew Lang
Sifting through a lot of media kits lately, I’m reminded how misleading statistics can be. Actually, it’s not the statistics that are the problem. Rather, many people believe that certain terms mean one thing when in fact they mean another. The most common problems generally fall in two areas:
How Many People Are You Reaching? Some publications cloud the answer to this important question a couple ways.
Circulation refers to the number of copies of the magazine or newspaper that were sold. Many publications claim that 2, 3 or more people read each issue and thus cite a readership that’s double, triple or more than their circulation. Some media kits spell out both circulation and readership. Beware of those that only use the term “readership” while implying “circulation.”
Publications sold only at newsstands don’t refer to “circulation,” but rather to “distribution.” Always ask what percentage of the magazines that are distributed actually get sold. Usually the figure is around 50%.
Average vs. Median. It’s been a long time since most have us have had to use mathematical definitions we learned in grade school. Remembering the distinction between “average” and “median” can make a difference in your media buying decisions.
To calculate an average, you add up a group of figures and divide by the total number of figures. The average of 3, 4, 5, 8, and 10 is (3+4+5+8+10)/5 = 6. The median is the figure in a group that has an equal number of figures above it and below it. The median in the example above is 5.
Many publications will cite average income or average property size when it leads to a more impressive number than the median. The median usually gives a more accurate picture of the typical reader. Be especially wary of media kits that use a combination of average and median figures. They’re almost always trying to skew the numbers.