Should magazines combine print and digital circulations?

Does adding the copy sales metrics together help or hinder advertisers using the ABC's figures, Arif Durrani asks.

It was a year ago this week when frustrations within the embattled magazine sector boiled over into a very public spat – via Campaign, of course.

Nicholas Coleridge, the president of Condé Nast International, managing director of Condé Nast UK and last year’s winner of the magazine industry’s highest accolade, the Marcus Morris Award, fired the first salvo, claiming the way magazines were audited had become "bogged down by bureaucracy, pedantry and timidity".

Fuelling the outburst was the fact that the ABC in the UK continued to separate the circulations of digital replica editions from those of print editions, despite its international counterparts providing a combined headline figure.

Fast forward to today (Thursday), and the ABC has presented a combined figure including print and digital copy sales for the first time. To be clear, this does not include website figures – only "static editions" where the majority of the content is exactly the same as that in print.

Jerry Wright, the ABC’s chief executive, believes concerns over the lack of a like-for-like comparison are unfounded. "Print and digital copy sales may represent two varieties of apple," he says. "We are not adding together an apple with a banana."

However, Steve Goodman, Group M’s managing director of print trading, says print and digital remain different platforms so will potentially be used in different ways. He admits he initially had an issue with combining the two but says that, for a circulation figure, this is not a problem as long as its make-up is transparent. From a readership usage and engagement point of view, he adds, there are differences between print and digital editions that are still being learned.

ISBA, the self-styled "voice of British advertisers", remains concerned that the new circulation figure will be distorted by readers being counted twice. The ABC concedes that any bundled subscription offers that cost 20 per cent or more than a standalone print subscription will be counted twice, but stresses that the number of publishers in this position is "very low".

So, is the ABC’s combined print/digital figure a good idea?

YES Steve Goodman, managing director of print trading, Group M

"As far as a headline circulation figure is concerned, we’re happy for them to be combined so long as it is very clear how the figure has been reached. Being able to record active views on digital editions should be the next goal."

MAYBE Bob Wootton, director of media and advertising, ISBA

"Advertisers and their agencies should be careful because these figures are ‘gross’. They are not de-duplicated, which means they are likely to double-count some consumption and therefore be inflated."

YES Barry McIlheney, chief executive, PPA

"Absolutely a good thing, and long overdue. We are sure this will lead to a more transparent, modern, relevant publishing metric. I understand why it took so long – and the frustrations – but I am glad it has now finally arrived."

YES Kerin O’Connor, executive director, Dennis Publishing

"We’ve worked closely with the ABC on this. The new combined ABC figure promises to give advertisers a better insight into just how fast the exciting new area of digital publishing is growing."

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