Promises Magazine Figures Within Weeks, not Months, of Sale Date

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NEW YORK ( -- Those interminable waits for magazine circulation figures -- and figures that only average six months’ performance at that -- may soon be just a tale old-time media buyers tell the newbies.

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The Audit Bureau of Circulations, the dominant arbiter of magazine circulation, said this morning that it will introduce a service called ABC Rapid Report, which will allow consumer magazines the option of reporting circulation by issue within weeks of an issue’s on-sale date. That information would then be available online to all bureau members.

Beta-testing under way
The bureau, which approved the Rapid Report during its March 8-10 board meeting in Sarasota, Fla., said publishers representing about 35 magazines are already conducting beta-tests of the service. Rapid Report is expected to become available to all bureau publishers for their July-dated issues.

The service seems likely to finally answer long-standing complaints from advertisers and media agency executives that the ponderous system in place now complicates decision-making on the ad-buying side. It also immediately stoked the competition between the bureau and its rival, BPA Worldwide, which claims credit for getting there first.

“It’s an encouraging sign,” said George Janson, managing partner and director of print, Mediaedge:cia. “We’ve been pushing for this for a very, very long time. The fact that you have to wait 2 to 3 years for an audit is really unacceptable.”

“The proof,” Mr. Janson said, “will be in how many magazines choose to participate and also how accurate the data turns out to be. Hopefully the numbers that they’re providing will be fairly accurate or else we’re back to square one."

Monumental leap forward
Donald J. Miceli, VP-global media services, Kraft, said in a statement released by the bureau that ABC Rapid Report represents a monumental leap forward for print media. “With online access to timely, per-issue circulation data, media planners and buyers will be better informed and able to gauge traditional print media against other competitive media.”

In other actions, the bureau also approved a new audit service aimed at magazine subscription sales agents. Under the optional program, called Agent Compliance Evaluation, the bureau will evaluate an agent’s ability to support the audit process, giving publishers guidance on which agents will pass muster come audit time and which may not. The service will assess and test areas including record-keeping systems, sub-agent orders and transaction processing.

Those evaluations, which will become available to the bureau’s agent members this summer, could help tamp the flow of improper subscriptions, such as those available through unapproved sub-agents on sites like eBay.

Racing against a rival
In many respects, the audit bureau is racing against its chief rival, the smaller BPA Worldwide. BPA said last September that it was developing a way for its consumer magazine members to report top-line circulation data on a by-issue basis. It plans to begin beta-testing before the first quarter ends. And BPA introduced its subscription agent certification program last November; it is introducing the program to agents now.

“While BPA Worldwide doesn’t pretend to have a lock on progressive ideas, the simple fact is that BPA was the media auditing organization that was first, by a long stretch, in introducing and developing both a by-issue circulation reporting system and subscription agent certification,” said Glenn J. Hanson, president.

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