Alasdair Reid considers if magazine ABCs should be published more
Patrick Burton, group media manager of Allied Domecq, was on fine party
pooping form last week. Speaking at the Audit Bureau of Circulation
conference, he rounded on his hosts and slammed the ABC system for being
out of date, especially in its auditing of magazines (Campaign, last
He said that magazine ABCs should be published more regularly and
include a more detailed analysis of short-term trends.
We’ve been here before, of course. The ABC system comes under fire at
pretty regular intervals. And the magazine publishers give as good as
they get. They are extremely reluctant to release figures on a more
regular basis, arguing that it would encourage short-term thinking by
agencies and advertisers. They maintain that the magazine business
should be more about long-term commitments and partnerships - so, when
it comes to numbers, averages are adequate.
Advertisers and agencies point out that more regular circulation
information is now available - one way or another - in the newspaper
market and that it’s time that magazines moved on, too.
Nigel Conway, head of media planning at the Media Centre, says the
industry lobby may be more effective this time. ‘Magazines have to be
convinced that it would benefit them too,’ he reasons. ‘They say it is
too expensive, and think we have a hidden agenda. They believe knowledge
is power and we will abuse that power. But we are responsible, and in
the market long term. We are not in the business of devaluing magazine
brands. However, we do need to be reassured that those brands are moving
in the right direction.
‘Brands that used to use magazines automatically are walking away these
days. Publishers need to do more to put confidence back into the
market,’ Conway says.
But Elaine Foran, publisher of Elle, argues that change would not be
good for the medium. ‘Agencies might want to try to pick and choose far
more,’ she explains. ‘But magazine campaigns are not one-offs. Trying to
pick on individual issues would not be a good idea, anyway, because the
circulation patterns don’t repeat year after year.’
The publishers run the ABC system, so surely that’s the end of the
argument? But Alan Copage, a director of Carat Research, doesn’t think
so. ‘We’re seeing progress in getting more section research from the
National Readership Surveys, so why not movement from the ABC?’ he