Newspaper Becomes First To Implement Monthly Circ. Audits

Metro USA, which publishes free daily newspapers in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, as well as dozens of international markets, has elected to undergo circulation audits on a monthly basis in conjunction with BPA Worldwide. According to Metro, this is the first time a monthly audit will be conducted for a U.S. newspaper.

"The media-buying community wants accurate, stringently audited circulation data in a more timely fashion, and we wanted to pioneer this territory," said Johan Hansson, managing director, North America, Metro International, in a statement.

In the burgeoning free-daily newspaper market, which is generally aimed at younger, light newspaper readers, any legitimacy gained by Metro from monthly auditing would be crucial in further establishing the medium. Metro, which is in a dogfight with AM New York in the New York market, may also be seeking a competitive advertising advantage.

"Our marketing efforts for Metro Montreal and Metro Toronto have benefited because of BPA's reputation for accuracy and uncompromising standards," Hansson added.



[BPA Worldwide has been auditing Metro International's Metro Torontoand Metro Montreal since 2000 and 2001, respectively.]

This move by Metro would also appear to be a coup for BPA International, which claims its heritage in the business-to-business auditing space, but has been gradually expanding its consumer footprint.

Metro's decision follows an announcement on Tuesday by the New York Daily News in which that paper promised to issue publisher's statements on its circulation every quarter--rather than every six months--to coincide with the Audit Bureau of Circulations audits, as is now the practice.

These two self-imposed efforts at transparency by newspaper publishers raise an interesting question. In light of the recent circulation scandals, which have led to cash settlements with advertisers as well as a widespread erosion of confidence in the industry's audience size, why don't more newspapers conduct audits on a monthly basis?

Most would assume that cost would be prohibitive. Not so, according to the BPA.

"Auditing represents a very small portion of any publisher's overall costs, and that is true even with more frequent audits," said Karlene Lukovitz, BPA Worldwide's vice president of communications. "Perhaps the main reason there have not been more frequent audits in the past is that there simply was not sufficient demand from the marketplace for this."

On the BPA Web site, a rate of $7,004 is listed for 40 hours of audit work for newspapers with a frequency of greater than three issues per week. Additional hours, if needed, run $106 per hour.

Of course, these figures do not necessarily reflect costs for a monthly audit (since BPA has never conducted an audit this way before).

According to ABC spokesperson Martha Dittmar, the option to have audits conducted on a more regular basis is possible, but the issue had not come up. Costs for such a procedure would have to be determined (The ABC does not publish auditing rates).

For the time being, most newspapers appear to be following the ABC's lead. "We are following the industry standard of being audited every six months as set by the Audit Bureau of Circulations," said Tribune Company spokesperson Christine Hennessey [the Tribune Company owns scandal-ridden Newsday, among other papers].

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