Saturday, June 18, 2011

Painting Newspaper Circulation with a Bigger Brush

Graphic Steve Greenberg:
Audit Bureau Circulation (ABC), which monitors newspaper circulations nationally for those papers that are members, has instituted a new math, which will give circulation numbers that have been declining for 15 straight six-month report periods a boost.

Beginning with the new report, papers will be able to use a lot of numbers they couldn't in the past as circulation, numbers like Facebook friends, Twitter followers and digital editions. They now can count those god-awful little zoned editions (which have the professional value of a middle school newspaper) with their own "brands" and other publications with separate name plates, like magazines and business journals owned by the newspaper, as part of total circulation.

Newspapers, of course, use circulation figures to set their advertising rates. The higher the circulation, the higher the rate, even if it is inflated. One local daily, whose numbers had been falling precipitously and consistently for years, has suddenly seen the numbers jump up 5,000, but as ABC points out, you can't compare the numbers. Wanna bet the advertising reps don't compare numbers--as long as they're up?

"The rules will probably be viewed, rightly, as liberalizing what counts as circulation," according to a story on the Poynter Institute's Web site (here). Poynter follows newspaper trends closely. The new numbers will leave potential advertisers with no point of reference for at least a year, says Poynter, rendering them virtually meaningless. After a year, their meaning will need to be explained in some detail.

It is the continuing process, in the newspaper business, of putting lipstick on a pig.

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