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New ABC circulation figures mean the concept of the 'magazine' shifts again

By James Papworth

February 22, 2013 | 4 min read

The Professional Publishers Association (PPA) released its first combined ABC-audited circulation figures for print and digital editions last week. Marketing director James Papworth explains what the move tells us about the magazine industry.

James Papworth

Last week was a significant one in the history of the ABC circulation figures for consumer magazines. All involved - publishers, media agencies, commentators and, yes, industry bodies - were for the first time given a degree of freedom in how the slew of data could be analysed.

As a result, last Thursday, the magazine industry’s trade body, the PPA, produced a Combined Circulation Chart showing the total, aggregated circulation for print copies and Digital Editions.

Why is this such a significant move for the industry?

Not so long ago, a magazine meant, to all intents and purposes, a printed product, and the measure of that product was an ABC-audited figure. But the ‘shifting media landscape’ to which we are all becoming increasingly accustomed means the very concept of a magazine is continually being reshaped. Print remains dominant in the mix but, in 2013, magazine brands are much more complex and interesting animals, with myriad audience touchpoints, from websites and live events to data products, standalone apps and uniquely creative digital publications – products that might share a bloodline with a magazine but offer something entirely different and new.

With this greater fragmentation of platforms comes an equal fragmentation in metrics, as different audiences access content in different ways. It seems a shame not to use the tried, slightly tired but trusted fruit analogy here if you’ll forgive me - essentially, we have moved from a world where once we counted apples, to a world where we are attempting to gauge the contents of an expanding fruit bowl that contains mostly apples but also a growing number of oranges, some bananas, a kiwi or two, and something that could well be a lychee.

For PPA members, getting a gauge of this fruit bowl is crucial and the Combined Circulation Chart is a step towards that wider aim. Digital Editions, as specifically defined by ABC, are very closely aligned to the printed product, and so it makes sense to combine a title’s ABC print circulation data with its circulation data for Digital Editions with the ultimate aim of presenting a more accurate picture of the total combined number of apples in the bowl.

The chart is, therefore, an important indicator of both how consumer demand for content from professional magazine brands remains unabated, and how the overall audience reach of magazine brands is greater than it ever has been. But it is equally a reminder of the critical importance of developing metrics to reflect this change.

Ultimately, the ability to do all of this has been enabled by the ABC Board. It was their approval of changes to the ABC Byelaws that meant as of February 1 this year members could promote ABC data in this new way: a necessary development that gives the industry trusted, audited figures that accurately represent today’s publisher audiences.

Transparency, in all reporting, is vital and the PPA Combined Circulation Chart clearly shows the constituent figures and how they combine to make the total. And, should advertisers wish to interrogate the breakdown further, the development of ABC’s impressive QuickView has given them a powerful tool that gives access to the various audited audiences.

So, last Thursday’s release of ABC magazine figures comes as part of a wider recalibration of industry measurement, and the concept of the ‘magazine’ shifts again.


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