Monday, August 20, 2007

Publishers' Reliance on Verified Circ Rises; Disappoints Buyers

Publishers' Reliance on Verified Circ Rises; Disappoints Buyers
BY Lucia Moses

ABC Fas-Fax report shows publishers' reliance on verified circ grows, despite risks of alienating buyers in spite of controversy surrounding verified circulation, OR public- place copies, publishers haven't stopped using it to pump up their numbers. A year after verified became its own circ category, those magazines most often distributed in doctors' offices and hair salons are on the rise.

A total of 230 titles reported distributing verified copies in the first half of 2007, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. That's level with the first half of 2006, when 229 titles reported using verified. But the total number of verified copies has gone up. In the first half of this year, verified copies equaled 13.6 million, or 3.8 percent of total paid and verified circulation. In the first half of '06, verified equaled 13.4 million copies, or 3.5 percent of total paid and verified.

The Audit Bureau created the category of unpaid public-place for the reporting period covering the first half of 2006. Since media buyers began scrutinizing the numbers, they have taken publishers to task for using verified to make rate base and, in some cases, for making dramatic increases of verified copies.

An analysis of ABC's first-half 2007 Fas-Fax, out last week, showed those practices continuing at a number of major titles.

Among titles getting media buyer attention are Bonnier Corp.'s Ski and Skiing, where more than half of total paid and verified circ was verified in the first-half '07. Both reported upticks in verified of 24 percent and 54 percent, respectively, versus a year ago. Group publisher James Pentz said verified or sponsored copies have always been a big part of circ, but that verified recently spiked to replace copies lost as the titles reduce their reliance on subscription agents.

Another heavy user of public-place was Disney Publishing Worldwide's FamilyFun, where verified, at 401,370, was a whopping 20 percent of the 2 million rate base.

Sean O'Connell, consumer marketing director, Disney Publishing's U.S. consumer magazines, defended the copies as a way to reach moms: "It's efficient distribution, it's highly targeted and it helps us capture additional subscribers through insert cards."

At Time Inc.'s Southern Living, verified jumped 40 percent to 121,771 over the year-ago period, pulling the title along to make its 2.8 million rate base in the first half of 2007. Publisher Rich Smyth said verified was tapped to offset low newsstand sales, while noting that verified still met his goal of being below 5 percent of total circ. "Verified is nothing to be ashamed of," he said. "In this case, it's very, very good circ."

In some cases, a change in circulation sources caused an increase in the verified column. At Time Inc.'s Money, verified copies shot up to 214,760 from 20,866 a year ago, which a representative said reflected a corresponding decrease in the number of sponsored and loyalty copies from a year ago.

Publishers stand by verified as a bona fide audience-building tool, but in a survey by TNS for OMD, less than one-third of public-place locations said the freebies they get were a good fit with their locations. The survey was conducted in early 2007 at 150 doctor's offices and hair/beauty salons.

Recently, the Audit Bureau board tightened its verified rules to prevent what some see as abusive uses of the category. Starting Jan. 1, 2008, magazines may no longer count back copies. It also decided that if a publisher reports as verified an issue to a location or individual, it must disclose as verified subsequent issues it serves to that location or individual for the length of the verified subscription term.

In the meantime, media buyers said they would be questioning publishers that had big increases in verified circ. Jack Hanrahan, U.S. print director, OMD, and member of the ABC magazine buyers' advisory committee, said he would steer clients away from titles with unhealthy verified practices, such as using it excessively and to make rate base.

Brenda White, vp, director of print investment, Starcom USA, and chair of the buyers' committee, said in some cases, she would recommend clients not pay for verified. "There's no question, I am concerned about the use of verified in light of the numbers going up," she said. "I don't want to see a lot of it, and I don't want to see it make your rate base."

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