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Returning to the bad old days?

Some people question the need for circulation audits for print magazines, because publishers now distribute content through so many other channels. Tim Langford sounds a note of caution.

By Tim Langford

Returning to the bad old days?

I was interested to read James Evelegh’s recent comment on the consumer magazine ABCs.

There is similar ABC dropout in B2B too, which I am sure people will have noted. The danger is we are heading back to the bad old days where print publishers made up their distribution figures. Those who were telling the truth were often the losers. It is a vicious circle. We are unwittingly contributing to our own demise!

Conversely, online, the only media now that can sell any meaningful win-win commercial opps on the web have no choice but to have the back up and transparency of industry accepted figures and terminology from beginning to end – you can no longer wing it with a great story alone.

This is progress indeed, but at the expense of any real focus or development of meaningful new metrics to apply to print in the internet age. The trouble is – and despite ABCs efforts to try and join everything up – print and web are still siloed (especially client / agency - side), despite many publishers understanding fundamentally that the key to success for their clients is a blended approach.

The readers in print are undoubtedly more loyal and probably a different demographic to those online, and they are likely more engaged as they will utilise both the print and online resources that the media allows them access to. How can that be quantified and audited cost-effectively? All that seems to have happened is that rate cards for print have stayed the same and yields have declined (although in our particularly market we have bucked both those trends). I would argue that pound for pound, those same print readers of 10 or 15 years ago are considerably more valuable to an advertiser now.

For the record, we at Communications International Group are, and continue to be, committed to ABC: the clear standard of quality and transparency in print. Most publishers in our sector have dropped out of ABC or stopped print completely. Not so convinced about ABC’s endeavours in online auditing, but at least we are beginning to be able to make insightful comparisons.

Our circulations have actually increased in the past few years, along with paginations, whilst maintaining the monthly frequencies of all our mags! We are probably an exception to the norm. Recently, one so-called competitor had been making all sort of claims about its print (and online) reach… nothing audited. Our only source of official redress was via the Advertising Standards Authority which upheld a number of our concerns and compelled the publisher to correct many of its claims.

Sadly, I cannot recall the last time a client asked us about ABC / BPWWs or the like. We have just completed our 2018 audits, and not one member of the sales team has commented back when we distributed the certificates! There is no fanfare. That is the real problem: it is not the audits themselves that are the problem, but no-one anymore seems to care about them, and that is the biggest problem that ABC (and by definition, the industry) has to tackle.

Sadly, I cannot recall the last time a client asked us about ABC / BPWWs or the like.