In a groundbreaking move the National Magazine Company (NatMags) last week announced that for a trial period it would release back-dated monthly circulation figures for its stable of titles.
Until now circulation data for mainstream magazines has been released twice a year as a six-month average under the auspices of the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC). Agencies have long argued for greater clarity in these figures, enabling clients’ campaigns to be planned more effectively.
We know there are many factors that can affect magazine sales. From cover price to covermounts, featured celebrities and the time of year, such factors can individually or in combination result in a monthly variation of tens of thousands of copies. Until now, however, the precise effects have been an unknown quantity, unavailable for public consumption and hidden from view under the shroud of the six-month average.
There has traditionally been a fear from media owners that agencies would use monthly circulation data for negotiation purposes. Even in the press release that accompanied NatMags’ circulation figures, its managing director Duncan Edwards said: “Media agencies have consistently claimed they would not use monthly figures to renegotiate rates, but to analyse trends and market share more effectively.”
While this is undoubtedly true, in the long run there is no reason why certain identifiable factors, such as seasonality, should not form part of the negotiation process. Of course this would change the negotiation dynamics, but change does not have to be a bad thing. After all, for all the issues that we pay less for as a result of lower-than-average circulation, there will be those we pay more for when circulation is higher. It is only fair that our clients get what they pay for.
But transparency rather than immediate trading is our primary motivation in seeking monthly sales figures from all magazine publishers. Transparency will equip us with the information necessary to plan our clients’ campaigns more efficiently and effectively.
NatMags has taken a bold unilateral step. I welcome it and would encourage all other publishers to follow suit, working closely with the ABC to ensure consistency. In the fractious and sometimes affected world of magazine publishing, rumours abound of certain magazines that only maintain their six-month average by heavily promoting or discounting a small number of issues that barely keeps them within ABC guidelines.
It is the opaque nature of the current system that allows such gossip to go unchecked and perpetuates uncertainty.
NatMags has taken a step forward on behalf of the magazine industry, and I hope it proves to be a catalyst for further change. After all, if there is nothing to hide, there is nothing to fear from the truth.
Nik Vyas is group press director at Zenith Optimedia