Newspapers accused of manipulating sales to push up circulation figures

National newspapers are being accused of misleading advertisers by manipulating their sales through underhand deals with wholesalers.

One major media agency is investigating a practice where wholesalers can sell copies of newspapers at a discount to hotel chains and transport companies, which then give them away free. But the copies appear as paid for on Audit Bureau of Circulations certificates.

Advertising agencies negotiate advertising rates with publishers on the basis of fully paid-for titles as free copies are not regarded as well read by their recipients.

Discounted sales have appeared on the ABC certificates of national newspapers since January of this year, but those measure only bulk sales made directly by the pub lishers. They amount to less than ten per cent of total newspaper sales.

While press buyers are worried that ‘bulks’ arranged by wholesalers are not disclosed, they are even more concerned that publishers could be linking with wholesalers to arrange the discounts to support circulation figures.

“Publishers have come close to blows accusing each other of this,” says one buyer. “Those whose circulation has gone down a lot in overall sales would benefit most from doing it, but it’s difficult to tell who.”