The startling drop in audited circulation

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According to, audited circulation levels are declining at historic rates.

This actually points to two trends — one economics related, and one customer-induced.

The first is that publishers are cutting circulation in order to reduce cost. AD states that “183 publications decreased circ 5 percent or more compared to 142 a year ago and 101 the year previous. Conversely only 41 publications increased circ five percent or more compared to 76 the year previous.”

OK, so publishers are cutting circulation to reduce printing and postage costs. It happens in every recession, and it won’t  come back much, if at all, following this recession because advertisers won’t accept rate hikes in exchange for a larger rate base. There’s simply no money in sending more publications to more people.

But the second trend is bigger and more meaningful to advertisers and publishers – and it could put the auditors out of business. That is that publishers are dropping their audits altogether because the audit process provides decreasing ROI.

AD states: “Departing titles far exceed newly audited titles. A record 69 titles were discontinued or ceased being audited and only 23 titles were added to the audited ranks. The total number of audited “consumer magazines” fell from 545 a year ago to 499.”

More and more advertisers are changing their perspective from wanting to reach a verified audience to wanting to achieve a measurable response from whoever they reach – a painfully fundamental change that I’ve previously addressed, and which most publishers – especially in the glamorous consumer world – are still trying to tiptoe around.
A hundred valid responses from an unaudited audience is worth 10x more than 10 valid responses from an audited audience.
From a publisher’s perspective, if you can deliver the responses, the audit becomes irrelevant.

Based on this, the audit bureaus ought to be frightened.

And while abandoning your audit is still a bold step in the magazine business, I assume that most publishers who do so are reinvesting in products that deliver the kind of results their customers really want.

The parties I’m most concerned about are the publishers who haven’t talked about leaving the audit behind. Because if it hasn’t occurred to you, then you clearly haven’t been listening to what your customers want. And this is one of those watershed times when the only security is to be so close to your customers that you can feel them breathe.


About the Author:

Bob Rosenbaum is founder and principal of The MarketFarm, a content-oriented strategic communications firm.


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