Sponsored Circulation Rule Change Schedule Stands

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NEW YORK ( -- The Audit Bureau of Circulations has rejected Time Inc.’s request for permission to detail “sponsored circulation” ahead of schedule. Time Inc. had asked that it and other publishers be allowed to use the category on statements as early as this December, six months earlier than required by a new by-law.

Time Inc. had asked to accelerate adoption of a new category describing sponsored circulation, which is paid for by third parties and often distributed in public places like doctor’s offices. Time Inc. made the move at the same time that it disclosed receiving a federal subpoena for information on its sponsored sales.

Though the subpoena didn’t mean that Time Inc. was itself being investigated -- the feds have been widely probing magazine and newspaper circulation practices since Newsday was caught inflating its numbers last year -- the company nonetheless distributed a “Dear Advertiser” letter defending its procedures.

Time Inc. never said why it wanted earlier adoption of detailed sponsored-sales reporting, but it might have been an effort to show advertisers that other publishers use sponsored sales too.

Other option
The Audit Bureau, in a conference call describing decisions made at its board meeting last week, said Time Inc. and any other interested publishers could, however, provide the information in its “statement plus” documents.

John Squires, exec VP, Time Inc., in an e-mail said the company regretted but understood the bureau’s decision not to allow early reporting of verified circulation on publisher’s statements. “We are currently reviewing ABC’s statement plus document to determine what works best for Time Inc. and for our advertisers,” he said.

Michael J. Lavery, president-CEO at the bureau, said granting Time Inc’s request could have produced confusion if some publishers adopted the verified category early while others did not.

Bureau membership meeting
The audit bureau rescheduled its annual membership meeting -- which was canceled after Hurricane Wilma hit the Florida hotel that had been booked -- for Dec. 12 in New York, but its board met as scheduled Nov. 2-4 to consider the Time Inc. request and other business.

Among other actions, the bureau expanded the definition of eligible sponsors to include charities, local governments, schools and other service providers. It had previously required eligible sponsors to sell products or services in an attempt to ward off shady agents with no motive to distribute magazines except, perhaps, for payments from publishers.

The bureau also officially approved the introduction of a service to verify the distribution of ad inserts inside newspapers, a service it tested this fall at papers including The Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune, and finalized changes to the format of publishers’ statements that will require more detail on circulation sources.

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