Ethnic papers figure it out

Two big-hitters in Asian and black publications have finally joined the ABC circulation club. Sunny Hundal finds out why it took them so long
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The Independent Online

In the hoo-ha that accompanies the publication of the ABC circulation figures, three newcomers to the club might be in danger of being overlooked. Eastern Eye and New Nation, both weekly tabloids, and Asiana magazine, a women's fashion quarterly, have had their circulation figures published for the first time.

In the hoo-ha that accompanies the publication of the ABC circulation figures, three newcomers to the club might be in danger of being overlooked. Eastern Eye and New Nation, both weekly tabloids, and Asiana magazine, a women's fashion quarterly, have had their circulation figures published for the first time.

Britain's ethnic media industry has long been shy of releasing independently verified figures that would allow outsiders proper comparison, but that may all be about to change as these heavyweight publications join the growing ABC-audited club.

For the first time in 15 years Eastern Eye can boast an ABC-certified figure of 20,661 copies, while Asiana, currently only on its third issue, sold 30,160 copies for the last one. New Nation, which is aimed at African-Caribbeans, posted 21,400.

Whatever the relative strength of those figures, the move nevertheless represents a sign of changing times. As such publications target younger readers, they have to make the investment that makes them comparable to their "mainstream" counterparts. This requires more advertising money and an acknowledgement that industry standards have to be adhered to.

Asiana's publisher, Sarwar Ahmed, thinks there isn't really an excuse to avoid an ABC audit. "The only reason would be if their circulation wasn't as high as they'd like it to be. They might have a magazine selling 3,000 copies and they quote 30,000. Somebody out there might believe them and book an ad on that basis. So it becomes better for them to not to be audited."

Others might not be willing to state the obvious, but then Ahmed is a veteran in the industry; he co-founded Eastern Eye in 1989 before moving on. The previous lack of transparency has frustrated those within Asian media for years. The lead taken by Eastern Eye and New Nation might force other hands.

Interestingly though, Ethnic Media Group (EMG), which publishes both titles, has chosen not to publish figures for other members of its stable such as Asian Times and Caribbean Times. Wayne Bower, managing director of EMG, said he was "very pleased" by the figures that were published. Asked why the Eastern Eye circulation was lower than an audit by consultancy Baker Tilly last year, Bower ascribes the difference to ABC not measuring "non-traditional" distribution networks such asfood shops in Asian-dominated areas.

Others within the industry are not so sure. Works For Me is a younger ethnic paper, a free recruitment weekly that wants a piece of the public-sector jobs pie from Eastern Eye. Publisher Nadeem Butt says Eastern Eye's figure was "significantly less" than he expected. "We always thought their circulation was around the 40,000 mark," he says. His paper distributed 48,498 copies this quarter, a jump of more than 20 per cent over the last quarter according to ABC.

The Voice, which is New Nation's chief rival in the African-Caribbean market, says it will take the plunge and offer itself to the circulation auditors at the end of the year.

Could the move to ABC be a sign of desperate attempts to find new revenue streams as traditional ones dry up? Is the industry still relevant when its future audience is more integrated and less likely to only consume ethnic media?

Eastern Eye's editor, Amar Singh, thinks ethnic papers fill the gaps left by the mainstream media, especially "in terms of the way the news is presented". "We don't cover it in a tokenistic way," he says, "we are at the heart of the changing community. People want to dip into their culture once in a while and get their 'cultural fix'. Eastern Eye provides them that opportunity and choice," he says.

Sarwar Ahmed of Asiana takes a slightly different line. "I don't think the mainstream media is selling anyone short. [Mainstream] doesn't mean only in terms of race. We are just a specialist medium like lots of others," he says. The content in Asiana just would not be covered elsewhere in such detail, he believes. "Just because the News of the World has a car section doesn't mean there's no need for specialist car magazines."

The writer is editor of Asians in Media: AsiansinMedia.org, which publishes news on British Asians in the media industry

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