Shoptalk: New ABC U.S. Newspaper Rules Keep Pace with Digital Trends

By: Mike Lavery

In the past decade, newspapers have transformed from traditional flagship papers to multimedia brands that incorporate multiple print and digital products. The Audit Bureau of Circulations recognized this shift and the fluidity of an industry in transformation.

Newspaperswere redefining themselves, and ABC needed to redefine its rules to best serve its publisher and media buyer members. More than two years ago, media buyers and sellers came together to discuss how newspapers should be qualified and reported in the coming years. Publishers wanted their expanding distribution channels recognized, while advertisers wanted greater transparency in order to analyze those channels.

After much deliberation, a broad set of modified rules went into effect Oct. 1, 2010. March 31 marks the end of the first reporting period under the new rules. Next month, publishers will submit their first Publisher’s Statements reflecting these rules. In anticipation of the first results, I would like to revisit some of the major changes you’ll see.

Verified Circulation
The inclusion of verified circulation on newspaper reports was inspired by the consumer magazine division’s successful adoption of this category in 2006. There are now two categories of circulation on newspaper reports – paid and verified. The paid category represents copies purchased by an individual either through a subscription or at the newsstand, as well as copies distributed through specialized channels, such as those paid by a business for selected employees. Verified circulation refers to requested home-delivered copies, subscriptions purchased by a third party, NIE copies, and employee copies. The paid and verified categories are aggregated to provide a total circulation number.

Branded Editions
ABC also recognized that newspapers are more than a combination of one print product and a website. Many have niche or community-specific publications. The addition of branded editions to U.S. newspaper reports was a reaction to this trend in newspapers. These editions have the potential to reach a range of audiences, and their circulation will be reported with full transparency as part of the member publication’s total circulation.

Digital Editions
Last, ABC modified its rules regarding digital editions. ABC reports now detail the types of platforms used to access digital editions, including restricted-access websites, e-readers and tablets and mobile devices. The updated rules allow for more thorough reporting while supplementing the core paid and verified circulation rules.

In today’s dynamic environment, you can anticipate additional changes to ABC rules. Beginning this fall, expect new guidelines governing hybrid and bundled subscription offers and a new requirement that newspapers report both total circulation and net subscribers.

New Report Formats
This leads me to this spring’s updated ABC report formats. ABC reports, such as Publisher’s Statements, Audit Reports, and FAS-FAX reports, will be affected by the Oct.1 changes. The modifications to verified circulation, branded editions, and digital editions will be visible on ABC statements. Changes to the structure of these reports and added details will be apparent. The new rules also reclassified copies that were reported elsewhere on prior statements.

Because of the reclassification on ABC reports, data from 2011 and beyond is not comparable to data prior to 2011. This will be noticeable when the March 2011 FAS-FAX report is released in early May. The FAS-FAX report, which gives top-line circulation information for all newspapers submitting Publisher’s Statements, will have 2010 data reported in a separate section. Comparable data will resume in March 2012.

Although the platforms of distribution may change, the need for trusted media data remains. The updated U.S. newspaper rules help achieve this goal. The rules warrant better representation of the current media atmosphere, allowing publishers to present advertisers the information needed to make decisions in this new media environment.

Mike Lavery is president and managing director of the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

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