ABC Overhauls Some Key Rules on Counting Circ

By: Jennifer Saba

The Audit Bureau of Circulations has moved closer to an overhaul of how it counts paid newspaper circulation.

During a meeting of its board of directors last week in Kiawah Island, S.C., the bureau approved modifications that will affect how publishers report starting April 1, 2009. Among those changes: Newspapers will be considered “paid” by ABC regardless of the price.

Currently ABC breaks out paid circulation in three categories, copies where 50% or more of the cover price is paid, copies where 25% to 50% of the price is paid (often referred to as discounted circulation), and other paid, which includes employee, newspapers in education, hotel, and third party copies. All three categories are rolled up into the total average circulation number.

Other paid circ, which has come under great scrutiny since Newsday, The Dallas Morning News, and the Chicago Sun-Times admitted to inflating circulation in the summer of 2004, is also getting a face-lift. Instead of calling the category other paid, ABC is going to apply the term currently used by the magazine industry, “verified” circulation.

The organization is creating a new category for copies distributed to hotels and to business that purchased papers for employees to “business/traveler.”

ABC said that the proposed modifications, which should get final approval at the next board meeting in July, involved the input of all three of the organizations’ constituents — publishers, advertisers, and agencies.

“Our goal is to clearly define important measurement standards, streamline the audit process and provide advertisers and publishers with the framework required for today’s marketplace,” Donald J. Miceli, vice president of global media resources at Kraft Foods and ABC chairman, said in a statement.

Additionally, the board raised the threshold for smaller papers audited every two years as opposed to every year. Now papers with a circulation of 50,000 or less have the option of conducting an audit every two years. The threshold formerly applied to papers with circulations of 25,000 or less.

Under the proposed rule changes, newspapers are also allowed to convert home subscribers to greater frequencies as long as they can opt-out of such programs. Advertisers have to be notified 120 days in advance before the move and the frequency program needs to run a minimum of 12 weeks.

The board also elected four new directors: Christopher Black, divisional vice president, media at Sears Holdings Corp.; Sunni Boot, president and CEO of ZenithOptimedia Canada Inc.; Caroline Diamond Harrison, publisher of the Staten Island Advance in New York; and Christina Meringolo, director of media and PR services, Schering-Plough.

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