By: Joe Strupp

ABC Wants Task Force To Discuss 50% Rule

The Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) – still operating under rules
dating back to 1914 – may change its system for tabulating paid
circulation to more accurately differentiate among full-price,
discounted, and free newspaper copies.

The proposed changes, which will be reviewed by a newly formed ABC task
force during the next few months, include the creation of new
categories to specifically reflect how much a reader paid for a
newspaper and under what circumstances he or she received it.

‘It is something we have sought,’ said Bill Casey, vice president for
circulation at The Wall Street Journal. ‘We feel you need to tell
advertisers what circulation you have in each category.’

ABC’s board of directors voted two weeks ago to appoint the task force
to review the organization’s tabulation policies and discuss possible

Among the priorities is ABC’s ‘50% Rule,’ which has been in place since
the bureau was created 86 years ago. That rule, simply stated, says
circulation can be counted as paid if it is sold for at least 50% of
the newspaper’s regular subscription price. Papers sold for anything
lower than 50% are automatically labeled under one of several unpaid
circulation categories such as bulk or promotional, even if some charge
is still assessed.

‘The 50% rule is not a practical way to look at some of the marketing
that is going on,’ said Carleton Rosenburgh, senior vice president for
newspapers at Gannett Co. Inc. ‘You need to look at the pricing

Rosenburgh cited promotions such as penny-per-copy programs that are
currently counted as unpaid circulation. While they are obviously a
skewed statistic, he contends they should be labeled for what they are
rather than simply described as unpaid. ‘It’s a fair question,’ he

Conversely, a more specific tabulation would likely disallow newspapers
from claiming half-price subscriptions as fully paid circulation as
they can under today’s standards.


Joe Strupp ( is
associate editor for Editor & Publisher magazine.

(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher

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