Rechecked ABC Numbers Are In the Mail

By: Joe Strupp

A computer glitch that incorrectly added bulk sales to last year’s daily-circulation figures for 97 newspapers forced the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) to dump its just-released, semiannual FAS-FAX report and quickly scramble to print a revised edition that is expected to reach newspapers May 6. The mistake, discovered only hours after most newspapers received the report by mail Wednesday, marked the first time since the six-month report was launched in 1969 that an entire version had to be tossed out.

ABC readership figures, however, were unaffected by the problem and indicated that dozens of daily newspapers were reaching more than two readers with each copy. At the same time, the Newspaper Association of America’s (NAA) semiannual Competitive Media Index (CMI), also released May 1, reported a slight increase in overall newspaper readership.

The FAS-FAX errors affected some circulation figures for the six-month period ended March 31 of last year. ABC spokeswoman Laura Hagensick said all the numbers for the six-month period ended March 31 of this year were correct. Because the computer snafu led to bulk-sales circulation figures being added twice in the computation of the March 31, 2001, numbers in certain cases, they were artificially elevated, throwing off year-over-year comparisons.

Mike Moran, ABC vice president for print audit services, stressed that half of the erroneous figures published were off by 100 or fewer. “”For most clients, it was not a significant change,”” he said, adding that no major revisions to the FAS-FAX procedures were expected. “”I would categorize it as a minor problem.””

As E&P went to press Friday, ABC’s Hagensick said the corrected FAS-FAX, labeled “”Revised,”” were to be sent out that afternoon. ABC, founded in 1914, compiles circ numbers for 820 daily newspapers.

The March 31, 2002, numbers released last week, which will not change, showed USA Today holding on to the top daily-circulation spot, with 2,211,370 copies (computed on a Monday-to-Friday basis), besting The Wall Street Journal by almost 400,000 and The New York Times by more than a million. The top five Sunday leaders repeated their standing of last year: The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the New York Sunday News.

Circulation directors at a number of newspapers whose figures for last year were wrongly reported took the goof in stride. “”I think they take careful precautions,”” said Mei-Mei Chan, vice president for circulation at the Seattle Times Co. “”They will hopefully change it and move on.””

While ABC executives were working quickly to get a revised FAS-FAX report out, they stressed the readership figures in the original report were correct. ABC began last year auditing readership figures, which state how many people read each copy. “”We’ve gotten a positive reaction from both newspapers and advertisers,”” Moran said about the addition of readership stats. “”It brings to the table another source for them.””

Newspapers had pushed ABC for years to conduct readership audits and report the numbers in the FAS-FAX, claiming the benefits of showing advertisers how many people actually see the paper are vital.

Among the almost 100 papers audited for readership, the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser had the highest daily reader-per-copy rate, 3.4, and the Courier News in Bridgewater, N.J., had the highest Sunday rate, also 3.4. “”We would hope people buy the paper, but we are happy when they pick it up to read it somewhere,”” said Courier News President and Publisher Charles W. Nutt Jr. “”There are a lot of things we do each day to promote upcoming items, and we also promote from the Web site.””

Meanwhile, NAA’s CMI provided more good news to publishers, reporting that 55.5% of adults read a newspaper each weekday, up from 54.3% last fall and 53.5% a year ago. A smaller increase was recorded for Sundays, with 63.9% of adults saying they read Sunday papers each week, up from 63.7% last fall and slightly higher than the 63.8% of a year ago.

“”These readership numbers are encouraging,”” NAA CEO and President John F. Sturm said in a statement about the report. “”The newspaper industry has been working very hard on improving readership.””

Top ABC-audited Daily Newspaper Reader-per-copy Rates

Newspaper (Readers per copy)

Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser3.4
Courier News, Bridgewater, N.J.3.2
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution3.1
Asbury Park Press, Neptune, N.J.3.0
Home News Tribune, East Brunswick, N.J.3.0
Bradenton (Fla.) Herald2.9
The Herald News, Joliet, Ill.2.9
The Capital Times, Madison, Wis.2.9
Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, Wis.2.9

Top ABC-audited Sunday Newspaper Reader-per-copy Rates

Newspaper (Readers per copy)

Courier News, Bridgewater, N.J.3.4
Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser3.2
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution3.1
The Record, Hackensack, N.J.3.1
El Nuevo Herald, Miami3.0
Home News Tribune, East Brunswick, N.J.3.0
The Orange County Register, Santa Ana, Calif.2.8
The Herald News, Joliet, Ill.2.8
The Star-Ledger, Newark, N.J.2.8
The Journal News, White Plains, N.Y.2.8

Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations FAS-FAX, March 31

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