Gauging the size of your circ universe

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Not only was April the first time in two-and-a-half years that the fewest number of U.S. jobs were created, but mass layoffs, megamergers and acquisitions, plant closings and outsourcing internationally signal that the American job market is taking a hit. And all of those downsized, unemployed and outsourced workers can mean lost readers for b-to-b publishers.

"Manufacturing really took a huge hit these past few years; a lot of mergers and small shop closings," said Kimberly Clothier, director of circulation at FMA Communications. "The economy and global marketplace are huge issues. I don't think we'll ever see the return to the glory days of the late '90s.' "

So how can circulators keep track of that changing market universe?

"It can be unbelievably frustrating," said Douglas Riemer, director of circulation at Vance Publishing Corp. "We're constantly assessing it. You have to adapt to the conditions that are out there."

Terri Smith, director of circulation at Branch-Smith Publishing, which specializes in horticulture publications, continually crunches the numbers to gauge the universe. "We are always looking at the circulation statements of other publications in our markets to try and figure out where their numbers are coming from," she said. "If they have higher numbers than ours, I can't assume that it is bogus circ. I need to be open to the idea that maybe the industry is changing a little bit, maybe there are more readers out there or maybe there's some type of editorial niche that's creating more readers."

One of the main sources to help assess a market universe's size is associations related to that market, said Gloria Adams, director of circulation at PennWell Corp. "They have the best information," she said. Adams added that Dun and Bradstreet, the global database company, is also a good information source to assist circulators in deciphering the actual size of a particular market.

Joy Puzzo, Advanstar Communications' corporate circulation director, said she sometimes uses Dun and Bradstreet's information when going to a publisher to explain why a book's circ numbers will have to go down. Third-party information like this can "show trends, and where the market is going and how we penetrate for ad sales to combat any issues we can't on our side," she said.

Taking such information to a publisher is never pleasant, but it can be easier in markets where everyone is well aware of consolidation and layoffs.

"We can go to the publisher and explain why the circulation will be dropping and what our action plans are to offset this," Puzzo said. She also can provide numbers to help the advertising sales department continue to market the magazine. For example, showing higher one-year numbers or increased request rates can demonstrate that, while the magazine's numbers are lower, the readers that have been retained are loyal and responsive, she said.

Puzzo noted that in other markets it may be more difficult. "The publisher wants to keep increasing to top the market but we know there are subscribers who have retired, closed practice, etc.," she said. "This is where we would provide recommendations and competitive information to show our core audience or recommend additional niche markets to offset the loss from consolidation."

Smith said that she's often defending her universe numbers because her competitors' numbers have been growing. "You have to spend X to get X amount of subscribers, but there are a lot of variables now," she said. "It's a never-ending discussion that hits its high point when we're putting together our media kits for the year."

Smith noted that edit/circ conversations are happening at a much greater rate than only a few years ago, and that benefits both parties. Circ can obtain information about any new marketing possibilities while edit is getting information about growth areas in the industry. Editorial also often ensures that individuals they are writing about or interviewing are on the circulation rolls. "Every little bit counts," Smith said.

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