Editorial: Time to get real about circulation

Published on .

As Rosie O'Donnell levels her (unproven) accusations of, among other things, circulation inflation at Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing, other magazine publishing giants should ask themselves how their own circulation practices would stand up to intense scrutiny.

While there is no suggestion that any particular magazine publisher is being deliberately deceitful, the bulking up of circulation is said, by well-placed executives, to be so endemic in some categories as to be more norm than exception-even among publishers that claim to be about quality of readership and not just size.

At the American Magazine Conference last month, most attendees agreed that circulation issues need to be addressed, which is clearly the first step in the road to making improvements, but advertisers and their media agencies have heard such statements from this conference before. If magazine companies don't take action soon, this talk is going to start to sound extremely cheap.

One school of thought among publishers is that it doesn't matter what price a reader pays for a magazine provided they interact with it. Those who honestly hold that belief are entitled to it, but they should state that policy clearly for their advertisers and provide the Audit Bureau of Circulations with a statement that shows exactly what proportions of their circulation pay what price for each title. If it doesn't matter, why obfuscate?

For the other camp, those who believe that different titles have different quality circulation and that a consumer's willingness to pay for a title is an indication of their involvement with the magazine and value to an advertiser, it is time to bite the bullet. They should eliminate or at least reduce the bulks; put stricter limits on the cheap subscription promotions; and come out, publicly, and cut those rate bases.

It would be embarrassing for all concerned to arrive at the next AMC knowing that no one actually walked the walk.

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