Counting sales is as easy as ABC

With his decision to announce monthly sales figures for Cosmopolitan and Esquire, NatMags MD Duncan Edwards has turned the world of magazine circulations on its head

One of the oldest tricks in the magazine publisher's book is to give away a free CD, T-shirt or pair of sunglasses in the final month of the audited six-month circulation period. On the back of these free gifts, the publisher predicts a generous uplift in sales, boosting its headline circulation figure for that half-year.

One of the oldest tricks in the magazine publisher's book is to give away a free CD, T-shirt or pair of sunglasses in the final month of the audited six-month circulation period. On the back of these free gifts, the publisher predicts a generous uplift in sales, boosting its headline circulation figure for that half-year.

At the National Magazine Company, the publisher of Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping and Esquire, this practice, if the company ever employed it, is no longer possible. NatMags, as it is known, has broken away from the rest of the industry and retrospectively published a month-by-month breakdown of its magazine sales figures going back to January 2003.

It is a change that media buyers, who purchase advertising space on behalf of clients, have long been pressing for. Their argument is that they could end up buying space in a magazine for a month when actual sales are considerably lower than the official circulation figure.

But the magazine industry trade body, the Periodical Publishers Association (PPA), has said that it will continue to publish only the six-monthly figures, arguing that to single out monthly magazines for greater scrutiny, when weeklies and newspapers are still able to hide behind averages, is unfair.

Duncan Edwards, the managing director of NatMags, is convinced that his company is right to pay heed to the wishes of advertisers. "For years, advertisers and their agencies have been asking the magazine publishers to give them more information about the sales performance of the magazines in which they buy advertising," he says. "Collectively, the magazine industry has not been willing to do that. Individually, we as a company have been much more sympathetic to the advertisers' point of view.

"While we are full members and supporters of the PPA as an industry body, we felt that in this instance we had to do what was right. Rather reluctantly, we decided to do this outside the collegiate approach that normally characterises the magazine industry."

Edwards rejects the suggestion that NatMags decided to publish its figures retrospectively because many of the company's titles are in good nick at the moment. "Our magazines are in good shape, but if we continue to publish this data as a result of this test, then clearly we will do it for the long term. It would be a rather short-sighted thing to do if it was trying to take advantage of a momentary rise in circulation," he says.

Shortly after the next set of six- monthly circulation figures is published in February, NatMags will publish another issue-by-issue breakdown. The company will then make a decision by next summer as to whether to continue with the practice.

While media buyers welcome the move, they point out that NatMags has released publisher's statements for each month, rather than figures independently audited by the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Steve Goodman, head of press at the media buyer MediaCom, says: "Unfortunately, it's not ABC audited, it's a publisher's statement. In an ideal world, we would like to see data released through ABC, but that's not to say that it's not an excellent thing. It can only be a good thing for the industry, particularly as other publishers begin to see media buyers and their clients are not using it in a negative way."

One of the fears expressed by the PPA is that once advertisers have access to month-by-month figures, they will enter into a non-stop round of renegotiating rates. Ian Locks, the chief executive of the PPA, says: "What has happened elsewhere, when the frequency has been increased to monthly - such as in Germany and America - is that it makes the medium even more expensive because you get into a monthly grapple over price. For one medium alone to do this, we regard as discriminatory and unfair."

Edwards is convinced that this will not turn out to be the case. "At the moment, much of the advertising business is conducted on annual contracts. Within a year, there are already two announcements about the circulation, but if your circulation goes up or down midway through a contract, then it has no impact on prices. So why would it have an impact if we told our advertisers what we actually sold?"

Goodman admits that media buyers might want to haggle over rates for individual months, but argues that over the whole six-month period, publishers will not lose out financially because they will be able to charge more for advertising in months that sell well.

"The problem is to date that the monthly magazines only release data every six months. That can hide a multitude of sins. In any one month, we may be getting 20 per cent less in terms of circulation than we're actually paying for," says Goodman, who has received assurances from ABC that it would not cost extra to publish monthly figures retrospectively. He is urging ABC to include a voluntary section on its circulation certificates for magazine publishers to include an issue-by-issue breakdown if they choose.

But the other magazine giants are still reluctant to follow suit. Nicholas Coleridge, managing director of the Vogue publisher Condé Nast and chairman of the PPA, argues: "Magazines already report more information based on fewer numbers of issues than newspapers. Submitting ourselves to issue-by-issue ABC auditing would pile on audit and administration costs."

Emap, publisher of FHM, Q and New Woman, has issued a statement saying that it is "happy with the current level of transparency". Sylvia Auton, the chief executive of IPC, publisher of Marie Claire and Loaded, is critical of NatMags' decision: "Meaningful media currencies underpin the entire advertising supply chain... And where changes are necessary, they should be discussed and agreed by all stakeholders, and not introduced in an abrupt and destabilising fashion."

Edwards points out that NatMags is not the first to act unilaterally where circulation figures are concerned. "A year ago, Emap made a big song and dance about a unilateral decision not to publish the bulk figures, and went into print quite aggressively trying to persuade others to follow suit," he says. He is "surprised" by the reaction of his peers, particularly publishers such as IPC and Condé Nast, whose parent companies are in the US, where issue-by-issue figures are the norm.

Other publishers will be "watching the NatMags experiment with interest," admits Locks. Goodman is hopeful that the rest of the industry will be persuaded to be equally transparent, and would like to see such openness extended to newspapers, which currently publish monthly circulation figures, but give no daily breakdown. "We're pushing for newspapers to publish more frequent data. What I'd like to see, if they won't give us daily data, is the averages for each day. I'd like to know for February what Monday got compared with Tuesday," he says.

Despite the counter-arguments, Edwards believes that magazines can only benefit from providing more information to advertisers. "If any customer has the impression, however wrong, that their suppliers are trying to hide something, then that's not good. And many of ours do have that impression, rightly or wrongly."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
healthMeet the volunteer users helping to see if the banned drug can help cure depression and addiction
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Life and Style
tech
News
i100
News
Foo Fighters lead man Dave Grohl talks about the band's forthcoming HBO documentary series
people
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: 3D CAD Designer - Exhibition Stands

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Rapid growth has seen a number ...

Guru Careers: Graduate Software Developer / Junior Developer

£20 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Software Develop...

Recruitment Genius: Delegate Telesales Executive - OTE £21,000 uncapped

£16000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: High quality, dedicated Delegat...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Day In a Page

Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
Fifa corruption: The officials are caught in the web of US legal imperialism - where double standards don't get in the way

Caught in the web of legal imperialism

The Fifa officials ensnared by America's extraterritorial authority are only the latest examples of this fearsome power, says Rupert Cornwell
Bruce Robinson: Creator of Withnail and I on his new book about Jack the Ripper

'Jack the Ripper has accrued a heroic aura. But I'm going after the bastard'

The deaths of London prostitutes are commonly pinned on a toff in a top hat. But Bruce Robinson, creator of Withnail and I, has a new theory about the killer's identity
Fifa presidential election: What is the best way to see off Sepp Blatter and end this farce?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

What is the best way to see off Sepp Blatter and end this farce?
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards