Audit: 'Details' Magazine Missed Rate Base in Eight 2004 Issues

Circulation Figures Were Derived From Disqualified Subscription Agents

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Magazine publishers aren't done paying for past circulation problems, an audit of Conde Nast's Details magazine released today made clear.
Although 'Details,' part of Conde Nast Publications, had initially reported making rate base, the audit bureau ruled that 28,574 copies couldn't count toward its average paid circulation because they derived from circulation agents that didn't pass muster.
Although 'Details,' part of Conde Nast Publications, had initially reported making rate base, the audit bureau ruled that 28,574 copies couldn't count toward its average paid circulation because they derived from circulation agents that didn't pass muster.

According to the document from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, Details failed to achieve the paid circulation of 400,000 that it had guaranteed to advertisers for 8 of 10 issues in 2004.

Ad pages were up 14% in '04
Because such guarantees -- known as a title's rate base -- underpin ad prices, advertisers frequently demand money back or free ad pages when it turns out that publishers didn't deliver. Details ran 1,159.8 ad pages in 2004, a nice 13.8% gain over 2003. A Details spokeswoman declined to comment.

George Janson, managing partner and director of print, Mediaedge:cia, said the details of the audit and the time it took to arrive were both troubling. "It's further proof of the need for-real time reporting vs. snail-time reporting," he said. ABC is rolling out a quicker reporting system called ABC Rapid Reports, he noted, although it won't speed the auditing process.

Although Details, part of Conde Nast Publications, had initially reported making rate base, the audit bureau ruled that 28,574 copies couldn't count toward its average paid circulation because they derived from circulation agents that didn't pass muster, an executive familiar with the audit said.

Details isn't alone. Last July, ABC adopted rules disqualifying any recent circulation that had been produced through Ebsco Consumer Magazine Services, a subscription agent, or InFlight Newspapers and Magazines. The ABC board said that Ebsco had not kept proper records and InFlight had stopped paying publishers for subscriptions it distributed.

More than 80 titles affected
More than 80 unspecified consumer magazines would be affected, the bureau said at the time. Within a month, an ABC audit stripped Ebsco subscriptions from BusinessWeek's totals, meaning the magazine missed rate base every week during the 12 months that ended June 30, 2004. More Ebsco-related deductions soon came at magazines including Martha Stewart Living, Family Circle, Child and Parents. And ABC later disallowed paid circulation for Hearst Magazines' House Beautiful from an agent called American Collegiate Marketing, leaving that magazine short of rate base in six of the 12 months ending June 30, 2004.

Battles for -- and over -- circulation continue to dog the magazine and newspaper industries. On April 12, an advertiser in Laptop magazine sued its publisher, InFlight and the audit bureau itself, alleging that ABC helped the publisher cover its tracks as it inflated paid circulation figures. ABC President Michael J. Lavery has said his group's inclusion as a defendant had no merit.
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