Lies, damned lies and statistics!

Posted on March 19th, 2009 in AutoSpeed,Driving Emotion,Opinion by Julian Edgar

From here:

Although sometimes attributed to Mark Twain – because it appears in his posthumously-published Autobiography (1924) – this should more properly be ascribed to Disraeli, as indeed Twain took trouble to do: his exact words being, ‘The remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics”.’

And there are no greater ‘damned lies’ than readership or circulation figures for magazines and other publications. To give you an idea, often when a print magazine quotes ‘readership’, they triple or even quadruple their actual sales figures. Why? Because they assume each copy is read by three or four people!

In the same way – or even, come to think of, much worse ways – web sites quote all sorts of figures for their readership.

AutoSpeed’s figures are logged by Google. I can look at our daily figures, weekly figures, annual figures – or even figures for the content, section by section. Further, through internal Web Publications data, I can view readership numbers, article by article. Finally, I can also see the number of reader ratings for each article, and what those ratings are.

So I can, hand on heart and backed-up by unarguable data, say that AutoSpeed’s readership over the last year has been over 2.8 million separate visits and nearly 9 million pages.

So does that mean we have 2.8 million readers? By definition, of course!

However, to me a ‘reader’ is someone who returns frequently, reading our weekly-updated content. So, for example, someone who comes to AutoSpeed at least 50 times a year (we always have a two week break in new content over Christmas / New Year.)

And in the last year, we had over 52,000 people who returned to AutoSpeed one to two times per week (to be precise, 52 – 100 times per year).

But we also had another 38,000 who read AutoSpeed 101 – 200 times per year – an average return period of 2 – 4 days.

And we had another 32,000 who read AutoSpeed more than 201 times in that year – say every 1-2 days.

Therefore, people who read AutoSpeed more than weekly total 122,000 people, with the sampling period being the last year.

Stretch the definition to those who read AutoSpeed a little more frequently than monthly and that figure jumps to an even 250,000 people.

Include ‘about monthly’ (in actuality, 9-14 times a year) and you can add another 74,000 – the total is then 324,000 people.

These figures struck me the other day when I was viewing the latest circulation figures for the monthly Australian car magazines. Only one performance title even makes the list of the top 100 best-selling magazines in Australia (and that’s Street Machine), and it has audited monthly sales of 55,526.

Of course, those Street Machine buyers are viewing the magazine for the content published in just that issue, whereas AutoSpeed readers might be viewing anything from the last ten years of content.  But that’s the nature of our web beast – and the editorial policy that has specified from day #1 that we should make the content as timeless as possible.

I can remember when I edited a print magazine that had something like 5 per cent of the number of bi-monthly readers of AutoSpeed. It was a magazine where I could have only dreamt of covering the breadth and depth of topics we frequently write about in AutoSpeed. Simply, I could never have done the current AutoSpeed content in a national Australian print magazine: the fixed costs were too high and the potential readership far too small. 

Web Publications deserves the utmost congratulations in making available a publication that, AFAIK, is quite unique in the world. Sure, that publication has also given me a job for a decade, but look at the content and look at the readership numbers and it’s simply a genuinely impressive outcome.

19 Responses to 'Lies, damned lies and statistics!'

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  1. wayne said,

    on March 19th, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    Hey Julian,
    Out of curiosity, how did the figures look when you published a new article every day? I must admit i was a more frequent visitor when there was something new ( or freshly repeated ) each day.

  2. Julian Edgar said,

    on March 19th, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    Wayne, we made a bunch of changes at the time we went to launching issues on a weekly basis (or in fact, going back to that format as we’d already done that in the past). So the launching of weekly issues can’t be specifically isolated, but with all the changes, the line went upwards.

  3. Ray said,

    on March 19th, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    If the same reader views an article more than once, does Google count each of those as a view or does it count only one view?

  4. Julian Edgar said,

    on March 20th, 2009 at 7:24 am

    A view is a view – doesn’t matter what source

  5. Jack Herer said,

    on March 20th, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    “A view is a view – doesn’t matter what source”

    My browser currently has over 20 (!) cookies set by the domain, you must have some idea of numbers of unique visitors?

  6. Julian Edgar said,

    on March 20th, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    Google says 1,936,661 unique visitors in last 12 months. But as most of these are NOT recurring visitors, I didn’t bother mentioning this number.

  7. Ray said,

    on March 20th, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    “So does that mean we have 2.8 million readers? By definition, of course!” That’s not necessarily true unless there are 2.8 million individual readers. You’ve had 2.8 million hits. I’m being overly precise here.

    I understand that in the context of online magazines this doesn’t matter as advertisers pay based on the number of hits a website gets not the number of unique views, but I’m being deliberately precise about the definition of the number of readers.

  8. doctorpat said,

    on March 23rd, 2009 at 9:29 pm

    How are things confused by those of us who have more than one internet connection? I access Autospeed from both home and work.

  9. Ken said,

    on March 26th, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    Ok Julian you may be feeling proud, or be getting a big head or whatever, but lets put it into perspective. Its taken you a few years of hard work to get to this point, and have that many people visiting your site.
    Yet some unknown idiot named Tay Zonday can get 35 million people to watch him sing a song on youtube called Chocolate Rain. He’s also appeared on several TV shows, he’s probably made a shit load of money too!

  10. Julian Edgar said,

    on March 26th, 2009 at 7:35 pm


    1) It hasn’t taken “a few years”; it’s taken 10

    2) It’s not “my” site; it belongs to Web Publications

    3) Exactly what is your point? I would have thought any “perspective” as you put it, would need to have at least some relevance eg in content.

  11. on March 30th, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    Please don’t change the format I get my info that. I trust,now I’m retired/ russ sandford VACC “A GRADE No2362

  12. Ken said,

    on April 2nd, 2009 at 5:58 pm

    Are you trying to write some quick and easy stories while you spend the majority of your time working on your three wheel abomination.
    I was willing to let some things slide, like lets talk about bolts for my bike, Lets talk about basic bike structure building, lets talk about bike airbags. Lets not ok, I subscribed to your free publication because there was some interesting car stories, in the last month mabe more it seems you are harping on about your personal interests more than cars. When you started driveling about the about of subscribers you have once again you are detracting from the theme of your magazine. I’m sorry I called it your site, but I have only ever seen the autospeed front end, with your mug plastered in the top corner, and all the stories submitted by you and the stories centered around your life. But thats ok, its your “magazine” isn’t it.
    Regarding the issue of the amount of subscribers, you named Street Machine in particular, I am not a reader but I would have to say if they can get xxx amount of people to pay $8.50 or whatever it is for there magazine they have the right to harp on about the amount of paying customers all they like, when you are charging nothing and getting xxxx amount of subscribers, its not really the same. If you start charging $8.50 a month to access your site and then retain the same amount of readers, then you can boast about supscription numbers.

    In response to your question about perspective, it was my intent to point out that the internet is a free medium, and because of that you do not have to have any talent at all to attract a wide audience. I’d like to add, its only when you pass the hat around at the end of the show can you guage how good your performance really is.

  13. Julian Edgar said,

    on April 2nd, 2009 at 7:41 pm

    Ken, you seem a bit confused as to the probable content of this blog.

    In the box at the top right are listed some of the things I am likely to write about: turbocharging, aerodynamics, suspension design and human-powered vehicles.

    If those topics don’t interest you, why on earth do you read this blog?

    As to writing about AutoSpeed’s success, I make no apologies. I have long realised that people tend to positively judge publications only in retrospect; writing that blog post helps address that perspective.

    But look, it really sounds like you’d be better off spending your time reading something else – and with all that great, free stuff out there, surely you can find something better to read?

    I for one certainly wouldn’t bother reading an on-line blog that I found boring or of little interest.

  14. Ken said,

    on April 2nd, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    If you click on about us on the front page of your website you will see the tagline , “AutoSpeed is amongst the largest of modified car websites in the world, with over 3000 articles published since 1999.”
    So when you see that tagline, and are then fed articles about headlights for a bike, building a shed, and several stories on recumbant bikes, maybe the name Autospeed should be changed to something else, or the tagline removed from your page to stop any confusion from people wanting to read about modified cars.

    But that is not my main gripe, which happens to be the fact that you claim that every magazine is quadrupling there sales figures, and the exaple that you state, Street Machine, as the highest selling magazine with 55,000 is a far way off your gazillion hits a year. When citing facts and figures its its a good idea to use some that actually relate to the subject at hand. Street Machine is a magazine not a web based publication. Street Machine is a monthly only publication. Street Machine sales figures will be on sales alone not ‘hits’ for every time purchasers re-read an article or look at the pictures again. Its like youtube stating we are the best source of funny video’s and we are so good, that we have ten hours of footage uploaded to us every minute, and our closest rival Channel 9’s Funniest home Video’s only has an hour show weekly, so they are inferior.

  15. Julian Edgar said,

    on April 3rd, 2009 at 7:39 am


    The precis of AutoSpeed you have mentioned remains correct. However, I agree that some of the content changes that we have made over the last few years should be incorporated in the description – I’ll update it some time. But your choice of articles – especially the building a home workshop series – is a long way off the mark as these stories (and the bike headlight, etc) are extremely popular.

    Incidentally, our URL tagline is ‘technology, efficiency, performance’.

    Re the comparison media – what comparison would you like to make? Previously, you tried to compare AutoSpeed with “some unknown idiot named Tay Zonday can get 35 million people to watch him sing a song on youtube called Chocolate Rain”. I would suggest that my comparison is a far better one than that! You also don’t seem to have read the blog post carefully – I did not refer to hits; I referred to readers who vists us many times a year, ie regular readers.

  16. Ken said,

    on April 3rd, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    When you wrote that article, which has nothing to do with cars but appears to be another article about your own interests, did you forward a copy to the manager of Web publications. Are you looking for a pay rise? Its a pretty big claim to say that all Magazines and publications are lying about there readership, yet you “hand on your heart” are not.
    Also who is the Editor of Autospeed, because the job of the editor is to give the writers direction or at least to offer the writers an objective opinion on their stories and the content. So who gives you that direction. Because to me it appears Autospeed is a one man show. I put it to you that a lot of your stories are not really your own, you just pick a topic read it from other sources and just paraphrase. Even including bulk sections taken straight from car brochures, books and other web sites.
    My main problem is with you branding the entire Magazine and publication industry as damned liars while hyping up your own figures to inflate your ego.

  17. Levi said,

    on April 3rd, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    It sounds like you need to get your head out of your arse. If you had the intelligence to do the slightest bit of research, you would realise how senseless most (probably all, but they’re not worth rereading to confirm) of your arguments are. I suggest you resign yourself to commenting in a lesser forum where your rants may be at least be considered, rather than laughed at, as they are here.

    Julian, I don’t know why you continue to waste your time responding to these ridiculous posts!

  18. Julian Edgar said,

    on April 3rd, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    Well Ken, you are right about one thing. I did in fact shoot the blog post past Web Publications management before publishing it. It is one of just 5 or 6 articles I have shown them (before publishing) in the enitire 10 years (and over 3500 articles) that we’ve run. I did so because I wanted to ensure they were happy revealing what would otherwise be confidential data.

  19. Michael said,

    on April 3rd, 2009 at 7:05 pm

    i’m happy i read this blog, got some entertainment from kens posts above.

    you have to laugh sometimes.

    and yes i have been a long term subscriber for the last, who can remember how many years it has been?

    i do find myself visiting autospeed less and less, a couple of years back when a new article was published daily i would make sure to log on to check for interesting articles.

    the many repeated articles now, means if i only check once a week, i usually do not miss much.

    but i’m not going to harp about that, the stats are positive, so who am i to argue with that.

    only so much auto tech you could generate content for daily anyway, i’m happy to read the odd story about shed and house improvements.

    some of the tricyle stuff goes too far in my books, but hell maybe i am the minority.