Media Perspective: ABC revamp plans are crucial to the UK print medium

Among all the Easter pleasantries, the Easter egg hunts and the bonnet parades, there was time for some more serious stuff. Like an announcement from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, which outlined its plans to review its reporting frequencies.

If there's one thing guaranteed to induce nausea, it's a discussion about audience measurement. But the ABC's statement comes at what is a vital time for national and regional newspapers, and also consumer magazines. It wouldn't be overstating the case to say that its proposals are essential to the health of the UK print medium.

For those who missed it, after all the slopes of Europe and North America have been packed with media people of late, the ABC has procured the services of Douglas McArthur, the former chief executive of the Radio Advertising Bureau, to review the current reporting frequencies. He will consult with media owners, advertisers and media buyers before presenting them to the ABC Council, a coalition of media buyers and sellers.

Of course, the debate has raged for some years now concerning the frequency of consumer magazine reporting, with some on the agency and advertiser sides arguing that twice-yearly reports are inadequate. Broadly speaking, publishers have resisted a switch to monthly reporting, arguing that such a change would be prohibitively costly, and would yield little that agencies don't already know.

One publisher who broke ranks was The National Magazine Company, which, on a purely voluntary basis, supplies monthly circulation data to agencies who want it. This is a welcome move, and one that has won the publisher some goodwill and a reputation for greater openness.

On the whole, it would seem obvious that other publishers could benefit from such a move. The issue of reporting frequency in national newspapers seems to stir even greater debate, and there are thorny issues to be resolved, with many newspaper groups jealously guarding some of their issue-specific data behind the cloak of commercial sensitivity.

But would the offer of daily, issue-specific data benefit buyers? It wouldn't hurt, but the cost implications have to be explored in detail and weighed against any upsides to agencies, who already have a sense of which days and issues outperform others. More importantly, the ABC has acted to formalise regular monthly reporting of ABCe online national newspaper circulation. A move that will give its own currency and the newspaper industry greater credence.

It remains to be seen if this wider consultation process is little more than a sop to advertisers before the ABC Council enforces the status quo. Let's hope not. At a time when consumer magazines and national newspapers face big challenges, they need to be as open as possible with advertisers.