"Alien Abductions Confirmed," reads the fake front page of Weekly World Views, which arrived at Ad Age this week with no return address. It shows an alien saucer beaming up hapless humans. "Hundreds of Thousands of Readers Gone Missing."
The accompanying article notes that Mediamark Research studies count fewer Blender readers than Spin readers -- even though Blender has a much higher paid circulation. It quotes "noted conspiracy theorist Spin Publisher Malcolm Campbell," who says, "Apparently they're adding a bunch of people that don't read their magazine."
Mr. Campbell said via e-mail that the mailer, which went out to nearly a thousand media professionals, was just a lighthearted way to ask why Blender's rapid paid-circulation growth isn't showing up in third-party research.
Blender is raising its guaranteed paid circulation to 900,000 from 800,000 with its January/February issue. MRI's fall report counted 1.98 million readers overall, including pass-along and public-place copies. Spin's rate base is just 450,000, but MRI found 2.06 million readers.
Kent Brownridge, whose equity backers bought Blender's owner in August and renamed it Alpha Media Group, said Spin should cool its jets because the research largely predates the new ownership.
"The next study will represent field work through end of April 2008 and will fully reflect Alpha Media Group's ownership and influence," Mr. Brownridge said. "Let's talk then."
This kind of negative selling isn't new to the business, but it's risky. To wit: "Spin shouldn't throw rocks out of a glass house," a senior media buyer said. "They've had numerous owners, editorial redesigns and circulation problems of their own. Clearly Spin is desperate if they can't sell their magazine on its own merits."
Mr. Campbell, of course, disputed that, while Mr. Brownridge went on to cite measures by which Blender outperforms Spin. Blender's ad pages in the first three quarters of this year fell 0.8% from the same period last year, while Spin's jumped 22.4%, according to the Publishers Information Bureau.