The consumer publisher is to release a month-by-month breakdown of historic circulation figures back to February 2003 on its website today. In future, it intends to publish monthly data retrospectively at the same time as the official six-monthly average from the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
“Our customers have been asking for this information for years and we have decided that there’s no reason why we shouldn’t give them it,” said NatMags managing director Duncan Edwards.
“We have become increasingly convinced that doing what your customers want is a good thing,” he said, adding that the move is a reflection of the company’s commitment to transparency.
Media agencies and advertisers yesterday applauded NatMags for its “brave decision”, which they said would ensure greater accountability and more effective planning.
Steve Goodman, group press director at MediaCom, said the advertising community had been crying out for more frequent circulation data for years, but the idea had always met with stiff opposition from publishers.
“It’s fantastic news,” said Goodman. “It’s a brave and pioneering move. It’s great one publisher is breaking the mould and providing the data, and hopefully other media owners will begin to see that it’s a positive thing for the industry.”
Bob Wootton, director of media and advertising affairs at the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, called the decision “an enlightened move”.
“It’s common sense,” he said.
“It’s an open secret in the industry that circulation varies quite substantially by issue. Openness and transparency from media owners is a must today.”
Edwards said the company was publishing the same figures it supplied to the ABC for the six-monthly average, but was not permitted to refer to it as “ABC data”.
An ABC spokesman confirmed the data release was permitted under the bureau’s bylaws but would not comment on whether it welcomed the move.
Edwards said the company did not intend to publish the data every month, firstly because it preferred to release actual figures than estimates, and secondly to discourage a month-by-month negotiating climate.
“The agencies have told us very consistently that they don’t want this data in order to negotiate on a month-by-month basis; they want it so they can understand more about circulation trends for planning purposes,” Edwards said.
The decision covered all NatMags titles during the period under the publisher’s control, including its weekly magazines, which would be released as a monthly average.
The company is treating today’s release as a trial to gauge reaction from media agencies and advertisers.
Edwards said he expected a positive response, but would rethink his decision in the “unlikely” event that the company became embroiled in retrospective rate negotiations on an issue-specific basis.
Paul Thomas, managing partner at MindShare, said the information would provide clarity in the marketplace. “It’s a brave decision to do it, but agencies want it and I don’t think agencies will penalise them for being first,” he said. “I think they will embrace what they’re doing.”
Goodman said the greater transparency could change the dynamic of press trading over time, with the possibility that media owners and agencies would agree on appropriate discounts for some issues, which would then be offset by higher prices on other issues.
“Buyers are always suspicious that things are being kept from us – now it will be plain to see what’s going on,” Goodman said.
“All of them [magazine publishers] keep telling us the variances aren’t that great so it shouldn’t effect things too much. Trading might change but is that such a terrible thing? Things move on.”
Goodman added that agencies tended to deals across the year with national newspapers without the rates being renegotiated every time circulation changed.
Jo Blake, press director at Carat, said the figures would be useful. “Obviously if it’s retrospective, we can’t plan on it so much, but it will be interesting to correlate with covermounts etc,” she said.
Most rival publishers yesterday were reluctant to respond to the announcement, with IPC, Emap, Hachette Filipacchi and Condé Nast all unavailable or unwilling to comment.
However, Chris Gadsby, BBC Magazines circulation director, said: “This is not a move that we would want to follow”, adding that it would give competitors unwanted access to sensitive sales information.
By Caitlin Fitzsimmons
This article was first published on Media Week