New ABC Rule Boosts Bundled Subscriptions

By: Jennifer Saba

Two occurrences have pushed The Wall Street Journal to become the No. 1 newspaper in the country in circulation, according to the FAS-FAX released in late October.

First, USA Today shed 17% of its daily circ due to a severe downturn in travel and hotel occupancy. (USAT and the WSJ have always run neck-in-neck for pole position.) USA Today, however, does not discount any of its circulation, even hotel copies. That distinction became harder to make, however, on the FAS-FAX when ABC introduced its rule essentially counting any copy for a penny or more toward paid circulation ? another reason the WSJ will most likely dominate the No. 1 spot for some years to come.

The rule change affects the WSJ’s number of electronic editions ? and the line where the Journal counts subscriptions to WSJ.com. In the past, roughly 390,000 online subs were counted toward paid circulation, when in fact WSJ.com has about one million subscribers. Under old ABC mandates, the WSJ could count bundled subscriptions ? the same person receiving the print and the online version ? only if the customer paid 100% of the more expensive sub and 25% of the lesser one. The penny-copy rule suddenly opens up many WSJ.com subscriptions that could not be counted in the past because they were wrapped in bundled discounts.

However, the Journal has to do some legwork within the Audit Bureau’s new rules for counting bundled sales.

As ABC’s new guideline states: “This rule requires collection of no less than one cent per subscription. It also requires the promotional material to include an option for the consumer to purchase only a single subscription for less than the multiple sales price. The newspaper may not position either subscription as being ‘free,’ ‘no additional cost,’ ‘no extra charge,’ or other synonymous language.”

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