Amid Circulation Debacles, Senior Market Papers Verify Theirs

In an effort to legitimize itself in the eyes of advertisers, and ultimately to divert some more media dollars toward the senior market, the Senior Publishers Media Group (SPMG)--which represents a network of local market, 50-plus targeted weekly newspapers and magazines--has undergone a nationwide audit of its partner titles via the Circulation Verification Council (CVC). The audit's findings reveal that these titles are younger than perhaps perceived, while exhibiting a healthy readership among their intended target.

SPMG represents a network of controlled-circulation weekly newspapers or magazines geared for the 50-plus market. These titles are distributed mostly free of charge in stores or centers that are frequented by this demographic, such as senior centers and pharmacies--often located in areas of the country with a high concentration of 50-plus residents.

The audit revealed that these publications are "not older-older," according to Trevor Hansen, president of SPMG. Rather, 29 percent of readers are under 55 years of age, and 61 percent are younger than 64.

Hansen said the audit also demonstrated this group's purchasing power and its propensity to travel and to purchase prescription drugs, all attractive qualities to sell to advertisers. "It's just awesome for the industry," he said.

CVC's audit surveyed titles like "Lovin' Life Arizona," and "Not Born Yesterday," published in La Canada, CA, which in total encompassed a circulation of 2.8 million. SPMG's total network, including all audited and unaudited books, delivers a circulation of over 10 million.

Despite the size of audience available, there have been times that SPMG "definitely did not get business," said Hansen, given its lack of a formal audit.

"The feedback over the years was that agencies and advertisers would always ask for auditing statements," Hansen said. "We've tried to answer their call."

In addition to selling the magazines themselves, the company is also using data culled from the audit to use in producing a "Senior Market Report," which they will use in attempting to convince a youth-biased Madison Avenue of the worthiness of this audience.

"Do I believe that the 50+ market is getting its fair share of spending? No," said Hansen. "Everything is always 18-49 or younger. But more and more companies are beginning to see a trend in the population. Over the next few years, I believe you will see more dollars brought in."

SPMG enlisted the CVC to conduct the audit, given its experience in monitoring smaller, controlled-circulation titles. Given the negativity surrounding the auditing practices of newspapers and magazines in recent weeks, CVC says they can claim a squeaky-clean methodology that goes even further than that of the recently criticized Audit Bureau of Circulation.

"There was a quote from the ABC vice president recently where he said that the ABC is not set up to catch fraud," said CVC President and CEO Tim Bingaman. "By definition, audits are designed to catch fraud."

The CVC boasts a major point of differentiation versus ABC, says Bingaman. They talk to readers rather than strictly monitoring circulation figures and distribution channels.

"You have to verify that distribution claims make sense in the marketplace," he said. "Circulation audits aren't enough anymore. You have to make sure that people actually pick up the thing."

Bingaman said that in the audit of SPMG, roughly 98 percent of distribution locations "checked out fine," which he called an "exceptionally high number."

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