MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON; THE ABC SYSTEM: Will the magazine publishers offer to give more ABC data?

Alasdair Reid considers if magazine ABCs should be published more regularly

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out of date, especially in its auditing of magazines (Campaign, last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



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