Audit Bureau Restructures Online Unit

By: Mark Fitzgerald

The Audit Bureau of Circulations over the past month has shaken up its Web-site auditing service — laying off its top Web auditing executive and some staff; restructuring ABC Interactive from a stand-alone business to an in-house department at ABC; and dumping any Web auditing clients who aren’t also ABC members.

Remaining ABC Interactive staff have moved from their office building in Rolling Meadows, Ill., to the nearby ABC headquarters in the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg.

As ABC tells it, two factors doomed ABC Interactive as a separate business trolling for clients throughout cyberspace.

First, member newspapers were demanding that ABC audit their Web-site statistics along with their print circulation and audience figures. “Newspapers were telling us that’s how they sell,” said ABC spokeswoman Marybeth Meils. ABC recently developed the “Integrated Publisher’s Statement” to present an overview of a publication’s print and Web reach.

Second, ABC Interactive never really took off in gaining new clients. In a tough economy, limited resources are being directed to more successful services. ABC’s hot Reader Profile service verifies a newspaper’s readership research, growing from just seven newspaper clients in 1999 to 215 dailies this year. ABC has the same high hopes for its new Subscriber Profile, which does the same work for demographic reports.

Among those losing jobs in the restructuring was ABC Interactive’s head, Richard P. “Dick” Bennett, who held the title of senior vice president, audit services for ABC Interactive.

Since its founding as the first Web-site auditing service, ABC Interactive signed up relatively few papers, although its clients include two of the biggest, USA Today and The New York Times. Other newspaper Web sites proved hard sells.

The St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times was one that resisted frequent overtures. The paper’s biggest objection was that ABC Interactive proposed auditing only page views and other statistics generated by visitors who come directly to the site, said Web Publisher Ronald Dupont Jr. “That’s only 60% of our total page views,” he said. “The rest come from outside vendors, such as CareerBuilder.” ABC Interactive’s proposals to charge for auditing each of those many outside vendors looked too costly and complicated, Dupont said. He added that none of the Times‘ Web advertisers has ever asked for audited statistics.

ABC Interactive will continue as the name of ABC’s Web auditing efforts because, Meils said, it retains “a lot of brand equity.”

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