An Overview of the Recent U.S. Newspaper Rule Changes

By: Michael J. Lavery, President and Managing Director, Audit Bureau of Circulations

Part one in a five-part series detailing the recent changes to U.S. newspaper rules.

An Overview of the Recent U.S. Newspaper Rule Changes:
Inspiration, Formation and Implementation

In the 15 years I have served as ABC’s president, I have witnessed the U.S. newspaper industry redefine itself. With each passing year, the pace of change seems to accelerate. The more recent advent of smart phones, e-readers and media tablets has mobilized newspaper consumers – and newsrooms have adjusted accordingly.

It’s important that the rules by which ABC audits newspapers reflect these innovations. For more than two years, the ABC board and committees have worked to revamp our U.S. newspaper rules. On Oct. 1, 2010, another set of modified rules went into effect. Here at ABC, we are eager to see the changes implemented. By allowing for broader, more in-depth reporting of newspaper media, the rules open a new chapter in the story of ABC, newspapers and their transition to the digital age.

Forming the Rules
One of ABC’s strengths is its ability to create a forum for publishers, advertisers and agencies to discuss the industry’s most challenging issues. Decisions are never made with only one constituency in mind. The October 2010 rule modifications are an ideal example of that forum fulfilling its potential. Together, media buyers and sellers came to a consensus on important new standards for qualifying and reporting newspaper media.

These changes are necessary to bring verification to the comprehensive digital and print news industry and result from much thought, examination and preparation. In fact, many of the changes were inspired by similar alterations that proved successful in other ABC divisions. Both the Canadian newspaper division (in 1998) and the consumer magazine division (in 2001) adopted flexible pricing models, which allowed copies to be considered paid, regardless of the price at which they were sold. This change gave publishers more flexibility when developing marketing programs.

Then, in 2006 the consumer magazine division implemented a “paid/verified” reporting model. This allowed certain key distribution channels, such as waiting rooms, salons and hotels, to not be subject to the same requirements as paid subscriptions.

With the knowledge of previous ABC decisions and the ambition to address the shifting U.S. newspaper industry, we formed two committees with specific goals.

First, Vince Casanova of the Tribune Publishing Company led the Qualification and Reporting Task Force. This group dissected the reporting and qualification model for newspapers. The first phase of their work went into effect in April 2009 with the “paid at any price” model. This committee was also instrumental in defining the verified category.

Next, Yasmin Namini of the New York Times Company led the Vision Committee. Yasmin and the committee members applied their expertise to craft many of the rules that will guide newspaper media in the coming years. Much of this committee’s work was realized on Oct. 1, when the final and broadest set of rule changes went into effect. These changes include branded editions and new reporting measures for digital editions.

The Goals
Newspapers are no longer necessarily papers. Their content is distributed through cell phones, e-readers, apps and websites. Print itself is expanding its reach with more niche and community-specific publications. It is important to note that each of these mediums is providing content and advertising to a reader, and each delivery channel needs to be recognized and verified.

Our updated rules address this burgeoning digital field. Mobile brings endless opportunities to the publishing and advertising industries. ABC will progress and bring reliable media verification services as these opportunities continue evolving. By more clearly defining paid circulation and providing a more comprehensive view of newspapers’ publishing platforms, both publishers and advertisers are given greater transparency. And transparency is key as we navigate this new, complex digital world.

Summary of Main Changes
These goals are met through three strategic changes.

First, the well-established verified category is important to note. Much of what used to be considered “other” paid circulation is now under the “verified” category of circulation. The paid category now represents copies purchased by an individual subscriber or distributed through specialized channels, such as those paid by a hotel for its guests. Verified circulation refers to requested home-delivered copies, subscriptions purchased by a third party, NIE copies and employee copies. While publishers can still collect payment for this category of circulation, ABC auditors will no longer seek payment verification to qualify the circulation for inclusion in ABC reports. The redefinition of paid and the addition of verified gives advertisers greater clarity in analyzing circulation channels.

The concept of branded editions is also a key component of the rule changes. A branded edition is an edition of an ABC member newspaper that has a different name and may be geared toward a specific geography or demographic, such as regional editions or commuter, alternate-language or community newspapers. While most branded editions must include some editorial content, the board recently allowed opt-in products without editorial content, such as Sunday Select, to be counted as branded editions. These editions may be included in a newspaper’s total average circulation. The circulation of branded editions will be reported, with full transparency, as part of the core publication’s total circulation. Expanding reports to include branded editions is essential to further the concept of reporting a publication’s total media footprint, which includes both printed and digital content.

Finally, the incorporation of updated rules regarding digital editions is significant. Reporting of digital editions will be more comprehensive by distinguishing:

• Replica from nonreplica editions
• Digital copies sold to an individual from those used in educational settings
• Nonreplica copies distributed on devices (such as e-readers) with advertising from those without advertising
• Net subscribers on ABC reports

While most of the rules surrounding digital editions became effective this year, the register, activate and fulfill model will come into effect for some digital hybrid and bundled subscriptions on Oct. 1, 2011. I will further explain this topic in a later article on digital editions.

The new report format reflects these changes and will better represent a publication’s entire audience, which is no longer found solely in one flagship printed product.

What’s Next
This article is the first in a series where I will explain what specific rules mean to you and our industry. The upcoming commentaries will delve further into the topics of verified circulation, branded editions, digital editions, and ABC’s two-statement approach to media accountability and reporting. Part two will focus on the verified category.

Please note that these changes were made specifically to U.S. newspaper rules. Similar discussions are happening in Canadian committees. We will keep you updated as decisions are made.

For More Information
We want to make sure you stay informed of the changes. We’re happy to answer any questions that may arise as you adjust to the updated reporting rules. More information is available at the Q&R support center. U.S. newspaper publishers can contact your publisher relations manager and media buyers can contact your marketing manager.

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