Another of the magazine world’s dirty circulation secrets has come to light: maybe the only thing keeping some titles in the black are waiting rooms and nail salons, and that’s about to end.

Over the past few months, the Audit Bureau of Circulations has held a number of emergency meetings with circulation executives, publishers and subscription agents to address what it described in a recent letter as a “misclassification” of a large chunk of subscriptions. It would appear that, for years, a number of magazines — spanning every big publisher, several sources said — have lumped subscriptions to places like doctors’ offices (where they are paid by a business but have an individual’s name on them) in with individual paid subscribers, the kind that advertisers want.

This story first appeared in the June 17, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

A certain amount of these subscriptions (less than 5 percent of the total) is allowed under ABC guidelines, but one circulation executive said it’s possible that at some large magazines 20 to 30 percent of the subscriptions are comprised of what ABC calls “public place/sponsored,” while ad agencies are none the wiser.

“I think there are a [small] group of magazines who have aggressive rate bases who are far in excess,” said one magazine executive, who added, “It’s millions. That’s the problem.” Many more crossed the line to a much lesser extent. “Some of it was proactive, and some of it was an honest mistake,” the executive said.

The ABC apparently discovered this practice was widespread at a number of Primedia consumer magazines during a routine audit last year, two sources said. Its use at Seventeen was apparent to companies that perused its books before making a bid and contributed to a lower-than-hoped-for price, a source with knowledge of the sale said. An ABC spokeswoman declined comment, as did a spokesman at Primedia.

Now ABC’s members have been told that they’ll have a free pass for the June filing period, but come December, publishers will be required to specify which copies are being sent to beauticians and similar establishments. No doubt some very awkward conversations with advertisers will follow.

But some members of the circulation community are upset at the sudden crackdown and at the ABC, “which for years and years has known as well as the rest of us what’s been going on, but yet it’s suddenly been ‘discovered,’” said Pete Pedersen, a Publishers Clearing House executive, at a recent Magazine Publishers of America seminar. — Greg Lindsay

FIRE SALE: Are Bob Guccione Jr.’s plans of reviving Gear officially dead? That’s what some in the men’s industry are wondering now that Guccione has hired Sinclair Media to sell off Gear’s subscription list of around 350,000 active subscriptions and 300,000 expires.

Equally surprising is that Sinclair appears to be sending out a form letter to parties who have not expressed an interest. Call it the magazine equivalent of telemarketing.

But Guccione says it’s not over until the fat lady sings.

“Moi, defeat?” said Guccione by e-mail. “Never! I’m afraid I can’t get into any specifics except to say that any relaunch would start with a new, monthly newsstand driven circulation.” He did push back the date of a relaunch, saying it would not be ready this fall. — Jacob Bernstein

CAMP ICON IN WAITING: “Valley of the Dolls” be damned! Watch out Susan Lucci! Bonnie Fuller is headed to “All My Children,” playing — who else? — herself.

The plot line involves a company doing a contest for the Sexiest Man in America and a pitch goes out to the Us Weekly editor to co-sponsor it and run the winner in the magazine as well as a photograph of the executives from the p.r. company. But when the executives from the company wind up missing in action, two of their assistants show up and pretend to be their bosses. Ultimately, Fuller finds out the truth and gets slightly peeved.

“I was more diva-like on TV than I am in real life,” Fuller said in a telephone interview. “I don’t have a temper tantrum but I’m a little exaggerated and highfalutin. It’s more than anyone would put up with in this office,” i.e., in real life. — J.B.

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