NEW YORK — The magazine and advertising industries have expended an awful lot of time and brainpower of late rethinking the definition of paid circulation. To see why the term was so badly in need of clarification, one need only consider how many copies currently lumped under that heading are not paid for by the consumer, at least not in the usual sense.

That’s not easy to do. In the past, advertisers and media buyers often complained that the circulation statements issued by the Audit Bureau of Circulations seemed designed to conceal as much as they revealed. Publishers could distract attention from alternative circulation sources by reporting them in several different sections — or, in cases where the number of copies was sufficiently small, nowhere at all. That has become harder to do, and it will become even harder next year, when new ABC rules governing sponsored sales kick in. Under the new rules, only those copies for which publishers receive a net payment may be counted as paid. In cases where publishers are, in effect, paying the sponsors, the copies will be classified as “targeted” or “qualified.”

Consumer marketing experts say a large majority of copies sold under current sponsorship programs would not meet the new standards for paid circulation; magazines running such programs will have to decide whether to seek new sources, or lower their rate bases and try to sell advertisers on the value of targeted circulation.

In the most recent batch of reports, covering the first six months of 2005, publishers were for the first time required to report every copy sold through sponsorships, as well as through two related circulation sources: partnerships (typically involving a magazine subscription bundled as part of a product purchase or club membership) and loyalty-award programs (such as frequent-flier miles). Partnership and loyalty-award copies will continue to count as paid under the new rules, although advertisers have expressed reservations about equating them with more traditional paid circulation.

WWD combed through the most recent publishers’ statements for the 30 largest consumer magazines and the top beauty and fashion titles to see which rely most heavily on alternative circulation sources. As a general rule, the higher a magazine’s newsstand sales, the smaller its proportion of sponsorship, partnership and loyalty sales, and vice versa. The newsweeklies, those waiting-room staples, are particularly dependent: 22 percent of Time’s circulation of 4 million is provided by these three sources.

This story first appeared in the October 14, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

At the other end of the spectrum, newsstand-driven magazines such as Real Simple, Maxim, Cosmopolitan and O, The Oprah Magazine can apparently afford to make sparing use of alternative circulation — no doubt saving their publishers a lot of earnest discussions with skeptical advertisers.

Top 30 Magazines,By Circulation*
Total paid
Partnership
Sponsored
Award
Total nonindividually paid
Proportion of total
READER’S DIGEST
10,128,943
73,984
461,943
0
535,927
5.3%
TV GUIDE
9,073,543
0
2,833,961
209,533
3,043,494
33.5%
BETTER HOMES & GARDENS
7,634,170
12,861
150,291
0
163,152
2.1%
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
5,431,117
2,600
205,287
140,215
348,102
6.4%
GOOD HOUSEKEEPING
4,606,800
0
286,828
7,932
294,760
6.4%
FAMILY CIRCLE
4,298,117
164,168
182,973
61,675
408,816
9.5%
LADIES’ HOME JOURNAL
4,131,243
9,924
116,144
0
126,068
3.1%
WOMAN’S DAY
4,015,392
100,869
4,846
0
105,715
2.6%
TIME
4,050,589
151,648
351,235
391,516
894,399
22.1%
PEOPLE
3,779,640
0
62,431
98
62,529
1.7%
SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
3,339,229
0
49,089
32,737
81,826
2.5%
PREVENTION
3,331,686
59,601
10,647
170,269
276,625
8.3%
NEWSWEEK
3,200,413
6,678
269,356
286,912
562,946
17.6%
PLAYBOY
3,114,998
595
222,799
263
223,657
7.2%
COSMOPOLITAN
2,932,554
0
38,030
0
38,030
1.3%
SOUTHERN LIVING
2,754,937
3,926
58,933
0
62,859
2.3%
GUIDEPOSTS
2,652,174
0
291,599
3,624
295,223
11.1%
O, THE OPRAH MAGAZINE
2,622,718
0
0
0
0
0.0%
MAXIM
2,531,681
6,766
165
32,953
39,884
1.6%
REDBOOK
2,396,636
0
105,630
24,534
130.164
5.4%
GLAMOUR
2,340,958
37,729
120,597
0
158,326
6.8%
SMITHSONIAN
2,049,062
22,209
84,041
135,000
241,250
11.8%
PARENTS
2,047,279
133,261
153,284
19,814
306,359
15.0%
SEVENTEEN
2,037,457
0
188,050
64,598
252,648
12.4%
GAME INFORMER MAGAZINE
2,036,751
0
0
0
0
0.0%
U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT
2,021,485
121,332
144,049
71,531
336,912
16.7%
PARENTING
2,018,995
32,888
255,571
152,475
440,934
21.8%
REAL SIMPLE
1,947,004
0
15,860
0
15,860
0.8%
MONEY
1,942,531
123,782
50,271
146,832
320,885
16.5%
MARTHA STEWART LIVING
1,928,627
26,768
532
473
27,773
1.4%
Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations
*excludes association magazines

Fashion And Beauty Magazines
Total paid
Partnership
Sponsored
Award
Total nonindividually paid
Proportion of total
IN STYLE
1,793,902
0
46,099
0
46,099
2.6%
VOGUE
1,219,164
6,579
24,437
49,078
80,094
6.6%
VANITY FAIR
1,136,824
177
10,270
0
10,447
0.9%
ALLURE
1,048,497
21,637
101,434
35,769
158,840
15.1%
LUCKY
1,037,939
12,837
10,641
82,589
106,067
10.2%
ELLE
1,031,108
19,237
101,282
0
120,519
11.7%
MARIE CLAIRE
951,183
212
50,776
0
50,988
5.4%
HARPER’S BAZAAR
716,340
0
29,208
145,232
174,440
24.4%
JANE
700,159
2,181
70,180
80,054
152,415
21.8%
W
460,778
1,276
25,970
14,898
42,144
9.1%
Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations
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