A Bigger Circ BANG and Beyond for ABC: How to Count Readers When a Newspaper Becomes an 'Edition'

By: Jennifer Saba In mid-August, The Bay Area News Group (BANG), the cluster of newspapers owned by MediaNews Group in Northern California, said it was officially making the San Mateo County Times an edition of the San Jose Mercury News. BANG had made similar moves with some of its other papers in the East Bay. The Tri Valley Herald became an "edition" of the Contra Costa Times, while The Argus and Daily Review fell under the umbrella of The Oakland Tribune.

Those editions are counted toward the circulation of their big-brother metros. The reason for the move, BANG executives explained in a memo, is to make it easier to sell national advertising in a "less-complicated solution."

A few other newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, are likewise starting to fold editions into their top-line circ numbers. Their reasons vary, and each circumstance is different. But as more papers opt for assorted formats or push toward the strategy of audience market coverage, this practice could become more common. Says Mike Moran, executive vice president of auditing at ABC, "I think the publishing industry is looking for a variety of solutions that will cause ABC's reporting to [keep] up with it."

In the case of BANG, the transition was easy enough. The San Mateo County Times remains unchanged except for one aspect: a logo that says "an edition of the San Jose Mercury News" on the flag. Presto ? it's included in Merc circ. This move is expected to increase the Mercury News' daily circ by more than 25,000.

As with all things ABC, however, it gets complicated with other examples ? thereby requiring a nickel tour of the audit bureau's rules.

About 15 years ago, the board agreed to allow different editions to be counted toward top-line circ. "Our rules don't require us to look at the content," says Moran. "It's really presentation."

The rub is the format. Are the papers both broadsheets? In the case of the Contra Costa Times and the Tri Valley Herald, the answer is yes. On the publisher's statement for the Contra Costa Times, the Tri Valley Herald is included in the line "core newspaper circulation."

But what happens when The Philadelphia Daily News becomes an edition of The Philadelphia Inquirer? Does the Daily News then become a replica? No. The tab Daily News has a logo on its nameplate that says it's an edition of the Inquirer. But because the Inky is a broadsheet, the Daily News qualifies as a "unique edition." It shows up under the top-line circulation number, but not under "core" circ.

The Chicago Tribune announced it was switching the format of its single-copy issues to tabloid while home- delivered copies stick to broadsheet presentation. To accommodate that transition, which happened in mid-January, the ABC board made a temporary exception. Those single-copy tab editions will count toward the core newspaper circ, but only for a short period ? and with a long explanatory note (something ABC is fond of).

The twists and turns in the rules have to do with the concern of advertisers' buying and planning needs. But some observers are afraid this is just another wave of consolidation, and smaller dailies will be absorbed into larger papers and eventually disappear.


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