Circ du Soleil: Time Inc. Probe May Shed Light, Task Force Plans 'Per-Issue' Reports

Audience circulation statements have become the bane of magazine advertisers and media planners for two big reasons: They take so long to process that the data often comes in too late to be practical for many ad buys; and the validity of some circulation data has been called into question. Now, new steps are being taken that could address both those issues. On Thursday, circulation auditor BPA Worldwide unveiled plans to deliver statements on a "per-issue" basis, and it was disclosed that federal investigators have launched a probe into the certain circulation practices by consumer magazine publishers.

In response to frustration among media buyers over the long lag in time it takes to get magazine circulation data, the BPA said it's a task force has recommended a new process that would make circulation data available for each issue of a magazine, as opposed to the current twice-yearly method.

The so-called "top-line" circulation data would consist of both paid and non-paid qualified subscription copies and single copies, taking into account the appropriate subtotals and overall qualified paid/non-paid total.

The BPA said the task force was in the process of developing a specific reporting model, which would in turn be reviewed by media buyers and advertisers. The model would then be beta-tested by a group of BPA consumer titles.

Meanwhile Time Inc., the nation's largest publisher of consumer magazines, has been subpoenaed by federal investigators to provide information about the industry's circulation practices, the company confirmed Thursday.

The disclosure comes at a time when advertisers and agencies are questioning the validity of audience circulation statements following a series of scandals and misstatement among major newspapers, and at least one major magazine. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, the probe by a federal prosecutor in New York is investigating the business practices of Inflight Newspapers & Magazines Inc., a third-party magazine distribution agent that is no longer in business, but whose practices have raised questions about how magazines treat magazines distributed for free to airlines and business travelers.

The report said publishers including Time Inc. routinely treat such distribution as "paid" circulation. Advertisers generally base their advertising rates on the audited circulation statements of publications.

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