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July 31, 2008
Audit Bureau Liberalizes Rules to Prop Up Flagging Newspaper Circulation
The newspaper industry apparently has a death wish. After enduring a number of scandals of large papers fraudulently inflating circulation figures, it is now giving advertisers more reasons to be suspicious that circulation guarantees mean little or nothing.
The Board of the Audit Circulation Bureau (ABC) has approved a number of changes to their rules for counting hard copy newspaper and magazine circulation.
The Board agreed to change the rules making their circulation reporting more uniform, and relaxed rules on counting unpaid distribution in the circulation guarantees they make to advertisers:
- They have eliminated the payment requirement for employee and agent copies.
- The board also voted to eliminate the payment requirement for school distribution. Effective October 10, 2010, copies generated from school programs will be reported as "verified" distribution."
- The board also broadened the definition of "verified distribution" allowing subscription copies delivered to public places or individual readers to be counted.
- The rules for counting home delivery promotion programs have been liberalized to permit counting targeted unrequested copies to homes.
- Finally, the board authorized the inclusion of "other verified distribution" for copies delivered free to public places like hospitals and nursing homes, restaurants, doctors or dentist offices and personal care salons.
The ABC calls itself the "gold standard" in media audits. But by including a plethora of free distribution categories in circulation that may invite abuse, they threaten to erode advertisers' confidence in print media.
Rather than propping up flagging newspaper and magazine circulation this change may accelerate the already tidal move away from print media. At moment when advertisers already are fleeing newspapers, this move gives them more reason to do so.