Is the ABC stuck in the last century?

Nicholas Coleridge prefers a headline circulation figure encompassing digital, but do others agree? By Alasdair Reid.

In last week’s Campaign, Nicholas Coleridge, the president of Condé Nast International, accused the UK’s ABC of being stuck in the 20th century. His main beef was (and is) that the UK "has been much slower than the other advanced media markets to integrate digital replica sales [of magazines] into the headline circulation figure".

The ABC itself obviously refutes such a suggestion. Richard Foan, the group executive director of communication and innovation, says: "ABC in the UK is right at the forefront of the global move to measure and report digital sales of newspapers and magazines, whether websites, replica digital editions or other more flexible digital publication formats."

But is Coleridge right, particularly about the desirability of having one single headline figure? Dominic Williams, the print director at Aegis Media, argues that it’s too simplistic to lump different interactive magazine formats together.

He adds: "I would like to see more fully interactive apps being audited [separately]. If the ABC is to keep up with the demands of agencies and advertisers, it needs to respond with a measurement system [encompassing] all platforms – a combined print and digital editions figure and a separate tablet edition certificate."

Jane Wolfson, the joint head of investment at Initiative, agrees that this is by no means a simple issue. She comments: "One of the advantages of digital is that it can be much more transparent. We want to be able to see how digital circulation figures translate into active downloads, time spent reading and other metrics that give us a clear understanding as to how this element of a magazine circulation is being consumed. All this is possible – but we are not yet provided with this information by the publishers."

And Rob Lynam, the head of press at MEC, tends to agree. He concludes: "The ABC will have to continue to adapt… but I’m not sure [Coleridge’s] proposals would make things any better. Publishers have access to a vast array of data that might give advertisers a much clearer picture of how magazines are being consumed. I’m not sure that the main issue is a combined headline circulation figure."


NO Richard Foan, executive director of communication and innovation, ABC

"Our QuickView tool and publicity rules have been launched to meet the needs of all parties. They allow media owners the flexibility to report their ABC-verified brand performance across platforms while still giving buyers granular detail."

MAYBE Dominic Williams, print director, Aegis Media

"The ABC is an important industry body and remains crucial in planning and buying media. However, as the market continues to innovate and evolve, the ABC needs to work harder to remain relevant and keep its position of authority."

NO Jane Wolfson, joint head of investment, Initiative

"The ABC has a tool [QuickView] which enables publishers and agencies to look at the data as they wish, combined or otherwise, so it is unfair to say that the ABC has been late in providing these figures."

NO Rob Lynam, head of press, MEC

"Consumption of content through apps is continuing to evolve. I’m not sure it makes sense to have a one-size-fits-all approach to measurement. It’s unfair to accuse the ABC of being stuck in the 20th century."