Inflated ABCs could cost Trinity Mirror millions

Trinity Mirror has confessed that the circulation figures reported for the Birmingham Evening Mail and its sister titles over the last six years were grossly inflated.

Trinity Mirror has confessed that the circulation figures reported

for the Birmingham Evening Mail and its sister titles over the last six

years were grossly inflated.



The group is bracing itself for pounds 20 million of claims from

advertisers, following the admission that the actual ABC figures for the

last nine half-yearly periods should have been 17 per cent lower than

stated for the Evening Mail and the Sunday Mercury, and 10 per cent

lower for The Birmingham Post.



It is unclear who is to blame for the ’irregularities’, which came to

light during an internal review following the merger of Mirror Group -

which owned the newspapers in question - with Trinity. A group spokesman

said: ’the senior individuals concerned with the overstatement of ABC

numbers have now left the group’.



The titles, which accounted for 5.8 per cent of turnover in the last

financial year, have now been de-listed by the ABC. The ABC has also

launched an investigation into the problem with the co-operation of the

publishers and accountancy giant PriceWaterhouseCoopers, which conducted

the audits.



After announcing the situation to the City last Thursday, Trinity Mirror

launched a damage limitation exercise. It pointed out that readership

figures have remained constant over the last four years and added that

it ’believes these numbers are the most relevant measure for the

majority of advertising clients’.



But there is no doubt that the revelation will cost Trinity Mirror

millions, and there are also concerns about its impact on the ABC’s

credibility and the credibility of the regional press as a whole.



’Of course this could damage the ABC brand,’ said Simon Devitt, ABC

chief executive. ’That is why we are working hard to find out who is at

fault.’



Roger Winfield, newspaper sales director at Newcastle Chronicle and

Journal and a member of the ABC’s regional press committee, said: ’It is

sad if it has a negative impact on the regional press, because we are

all at such pains to present transparent figures.’



Tony Witts, managing director of The West Midlands Express & Star Group

was magnanimous, even though his group, which has a number of papers in

and around the Birmingham area, has often come second in the circulation

wars by just a few thousand copies. ’We’ve puzzled for some time over

the papers’ performance,’ he said. ’We fully support Trinity Mirror’s

actions, however, and we wish them well in restoring credibility for the

three titles.’



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