More information on RPC and reasons for variation in RPC

PAMCo produces readership estimates.  Readership is an estimate of the number of adults reading an average issue of that publication.  Quite separately, ABC ( are responsible for auditing circulation.   Circulation is an audit of the number of copies sold or distributed of a particular publication.

Readers-per-copy (RPC) is not directly measured by PAMCo, it simply expresses the relationship between readership and circulation. Readership divided by circulation gives RPC.  RPC is usually greater than one, but with considerable variation for different publications. 

There are many reasons why RPC varies for different publications, such as:

  • The potential for pass-on readership outside the household, particularly in public places or at work
  • Pricing and promotions
  • Household size and profile
  • The publication itself – frequency, content, format
  • The competitive situation

Of these, the potential for pass-on readership outside the home is likely to be the most important.  It is entirely to be expected that there will be variation by title, and RPC can be high for real reasons.

However, in this case the hypothesis is that the ‘online first’ method, which is primarily self-completion, has increased the potential for title confusion for some titles.  If this is the case, readership estimates for some titles may be somewhat inflated.  Although most titles have increased RPC as a result of the new method of measuring print readership, some titles have particularly marked increases.

One positive change is that the self-completion questionnaire is better suited to picking up occasional and infrequent reading events, and this is one reason why the number of claims to read titles in the past 12 months has risen.

On the other hand, while assessing the new method data, the PAMCo Technical Group identified several specific instances where there may be more opportunity for title confusion and over-claim than was the case for the pre-Covid method.

There are a number of reasons why title confusion and over-claim can happen in a readership survey, for instance:

  • Titles with very similar names
  • Participant uncertainty e.g. “I know I’ve looked at a publication about this topic, not sure which one”
  • Participant desire to make a positive claim if they have read a title not shown on the list, claiming a different title with a similar or generic sounding name
  • Participant desire to make a positive claim to read more often than they do because they strongly identify with a particular title and want to be seen as a reader
  • Strong brand names which may also be associated with other content/contact points besides the publication itself
  • Confusion between print and digital reading


The Guardian

The hypothesis behind high readers-per-copy (RPC) for The Guardian is that there may be a degree of over-claim as a result of readers wanting to identify as regular print readers even if in fact they read in print less regularly than they once did.  A similar phenomenon was observed in the final years of The Independent as a print publication, whereby circulation fell but readership increasingly did not fall to the same degree, resulting in a rising RPC over time.  If this is true, it is likely that the same effect was present in the previous PAMCo methodology, when The Guardian recorded a RPC of 4.4.  The switch to the current self-completion method may have further increased a tendency to overclaim, and RPC currently stands at 8.2.

The Guardian has a large digital readership.  For all titles measured by PAMCo, every effort is made to ensure that participants do not claim reading in print when in fact the reading has been on a digital platform.  The ‘brand first’ method presents the two platforms alongside one another in the questionnaire, clearly distinguishing between them.