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Readership vs. Circulation: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Aimie Carlson || Published on November 26, 2023
Readership refers to the number of people who read a publication, while circulation is the number of copies distributed.

Key Differences

Readership quantifies the audience engaging with a publication, encompassing both subscribers and casual readers. Circulation, in contrast, counts the physical or digital copies of a publication distributed, regardless of actual readership.
The concept of readership extends to the estimated audience, including shared and secondary readers, of a particular publication. Circulation, however, is a concrete figure representing the total number of distributed copies, both sold and unsold.
Readership often exceeds circulation, as a single copy can be read by multiple individuals, reflecting a publication's reach. Circulation focuses on the supply side, tallying the number of copies made available in the market.
Readership is a more abstract metric, usually derived from surveys and statistical models to gauge audience size. Circulation is a tangible count, often used by publishers for logistical and sales purposes.
The significance of readership lies in understanding the demographic and size of the audience for advertisers and content strategies. Circulation serves as a key metric for publishers to set advertising rates and manage distribution.

Comparison Chart


Estimate of the number of people who read or are likely to read a publication.
Count of copies of a publication that are distributed.

Metric Type

Abstract, based on surveys and estimates.
Concrete, based on physical count.


Includes primary and secondary readers, reflecting potential audience size.
Limited to the number of copies produced and distributed.

Relevance for Advertisers

Indicates potential audience exposure and demographic reach for advertising.
Used to set advertising rates based on distribution size.

Impact of Shared Copies

Increases readership, as one copy can be read by multiple people.
Remains constant, as it counts individual copies.

Readership and Circulation Definitions


The group of people targeted or reached by written content.
The journal's specialized readership appreciates its in-depth analysis.


The number of copies of a publication distributed at a given time.
The daily circulation of the newspaper is around 200,000.


The audience that reads or is likely to read a particular publication.
The magazine's readership has grown significantly among young adults.


The extent or range of distribution of a publication.
The local journal's circulation is limited to the city.


The total number of readers of a publication.
The newspaper's readership exceeds a million.


The continuous movement or dissemination of information or publications.
Rumors about the celebrity's life were in wide circulation last week.


The frequency or extent to which something is read.
The blog's readership has been consistently high since its launch.


The act of distributing copies of periodicals, books, or newspapers.
The magazine's circulation has spread to over fifty countries.


The estimated number of people who read a particular book, magazine, or newspaper.
The author was thrilled with the expanding readership of her latest novel.


The process of supplying or spreading something to a group or area.
The library plays a key role in the circulation of educational materials.


The readers of a publication considered as a group.


Movement in a circle or circuit, especially the movement of blood through bodily vessels as a result of the heart's pumping action.


Chiefly British The office of a reader at a university.


Movement or passage through a system of vessels, as of water through pipes; flow.


The collected readers of a publication.
The village newspaper has a readership of only 200 people.


Free movement or passage.


The role or office of a reader.
The Nora Chadwick Readership in Celtic Studies


The office of reader.


The audience reached by written communications (books or magazines or newspapers etc.)


What does readership indicate about a publication?

Readership indicates the estimated number of people who read or are likely to read a publication.

How is circulation different from readership?

Circulation refers to the number of copies distributed, while readership estimates the audience size.

Is readership always higher than circulation?

Often, yes, as multiple people may read a single copy.

How do advertisers use readership data?

Advertisers use readership data to understand audience size and demographics for targeted advertising.

Can circulation affect readership?

Yes, higher circulation can lead to greater potential readership but doesn't guarantee it.

Can digital publications have a readership?

Yes, digital publications have a readership, often measured by views or unique visitors.

Why is circulation important for publishers?

Circulation is important for logistical planning, setting advertising rates, and gauging distribution effectiveness.

Does circulation include unsold copies?

Yes, circulation counts both sold and unsold distributed copies.

Do libraries contribute to a publication's readership?

Yes, libraries can significantly contribute to a publication's readership by making it accessible to more people.

What factors influence a publication's readership?

Content quality, relevance, accessibility, and marketing efforts influence readership.

Can a decline in circulation affect readership?

A decline in circulation can potentially reduce readership if fewer people have access to the publication.

How is readership measured for online content?

Online readership is typically measured by website traffic analytics, such as page views and unique visitors.

Does online circulation have the same impact as print circulation?

The impact varies, as online circulation can reach a wider, more diverse audience but may differ in engagement levels compared to print.

Are readership and circulation metrics stable over time?

These metrics can fluctuate due to various factors like market trends, competition, and content changes.

Can a publication have high circulation but low readership?

Yes, if many distributed copies are not read, a publication can have high circulation but low readership.

How do seasonal trends affect readership and circulation?

Seasonal trends can affect both, with certain periods seeing increased or decreased engagement and distribution.

How do special editions affect circulation?

Special editions can boost circulation temporarily due to increased interest or collectibility.

Can promotional campaigns increase both readership and circulation?

Yes, effective promotional campaigns can boost both by attracting new readers and increasing distribution.

Is readership more subjective to measure than circulation?

Yes, readership is more subjective as it often relies on estimates and surveys, unlike the tangible count of circulation.

Is readership more important than circulation for advertisers?

Generally, yes, as advertisers are more interested in the size and nature of the audience rather than the number of copies distributed.
About Author
Written by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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