Tuesday, March 16

Helping Publishers: Audit Bureau of Circulations

With the Audit Bureau of Circulations finally modifying its definition of a digital magazine in the U.S. and Canada to accommodate electronic reading devices, print publications and dailies may finally see a footbridge to cross the chasm.

As long as the replica digital edition includes a print edition's full editorial content and advertising under the new rules, digital editions will continue to be included in a magazine's circulation guarantee. The change comes, in part, from the efforts of Wired magazine, which was the first publication to seek review of an Apple iPad version. GQ had also offered an ABC-approved replica app for the iPhone and iPod Touch (December 2009).

What Publishers Are Allowed To Report.

• E-reader distribution averages, such as iPad and Kindle.
• Mobile app purchases, such iPhone or self-produced apps.
• Total paid/verified circulation emanating from multiple newspaper products.
• Comprehensive frequency, delivery platforms, and distribution methods.
• Audience-FAX, which allows the counting of sources used by ABC Interactive.

These new reporting options will be available to U.S. newspapers beginning Oct. 1, 2010. They adopt one of the methods we've backed for several years, which was for publications to discontinue considering print and electronic formats as competing products and to move toward a universal single product publishing strategy that doesn't distinguish from print and electronic.

"A newspaper today is much more than a traditional print product," said Merle Davidson, director of media services at J.C. Penney Co. and chairman of the ABC board. "We now have a roadmap in place to present a myriad of existing and emerging channels to media buyers in a consistent fashion, following industry-established standards, with the full transparency and trust that comes with an ABC audit."

The rules, combined with a pending July decision to allow ABC membership to include publications without a 70 percent paid subscription rate to be included, could reverse the decline of circulation among publishers. This is a promising development.

Why The Ruling Is Promising For Publishers.

By counting print and electronic replicas as part of their total circulation, publishers will be better able to sell advertising at sustainable rates. As a result, while publishers will be participating in an increasingly competitive environment, they will be better equipped to present sustaining ad rates with selling themselves out.

If publishers can regain their financial footing, there will be a greater incentive to increase the accuracy of reporting and return to objective and accurate editorial standards. It could increase the value of some publications to consumers.

Why The Ruling Is Promising For Writers.

There has been increasing pressure on publishers to reduce pay rates and lay off staff. This has contributed to the increasingly fragmented distinction of professional writers, guest "marketing" writers, and amateur writers, resulting in content mills, non-paid content (for the promise of exposure), reduced pay rates (as low as 2 cents per word, if at all), inequity in the caliber of the publishing credits, etc.

If publishers can regain their financial footing, those who seek to exploit writers by asking them to "volunteer" content for the financial gain of the publisher, will begin to wane. It could increase the value of quality content.

Why The Ruling Is Promising For Advertisers.

Media buyers have been pressured to compare advertising rates across a variety of diverse platforms, using an increasingly diverse measure of accounting. The new ABC rules will better equip media buyers to justify mainstream buys, and include alternative buys as supplements (such as buying space on a blog) rather than forgo mainstream vehicles and buy broadly across the net.

If media buyers make better purchasing decisions, print ads and their electronic replica versions could reinvigorate advertising to go beyond interruptive banner ads. It could decrease the number of hack ads that litter the net.

Why The Ruling Is Promising For You And Me.

Not everything about the era of infinite choice has paid off. In a world of information managed by public relations alone, consumers are asked to pick from any number of possible truths.

If publishers can regain their footing, bloggers will be free to publish on their terms as opposed to having public relations professionals dream of the day that bloggers might conform to public relations rules. While the notion of bloggers conforming to public relations rules is popular among those rushing the net, it is also fraught with back door deals, entitlement attitudes, "influencer" perks, and masquerades.

In sum, the evolution of publishers could restore credibility to the content we read. And that would be good for everyone.

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