AAM celebrated its 99th anniversary* last year by changing its metrics to include "branded editions" (counting free editions with little article content and a lot of ad inserts)** as part of total circulation. New calculating methods also allow multiplying the same person reading the same content in print, on a desktop computer, a laptop, a tablet, and a smart phone as 5 subscribers. Additionally, AAM cut out the five-day average of daily circulation. This makes comparisons impossible with AAM previous paid circulation figures. So much for its first 100 years.
AAM realized the implications of the change and stopped reporting on significant trends in newspaper circulation. AAM dropped its "top 25" newspapers list for the September 2013 report, and did not update its 2013 March circulation web page figures to reflect September figures.
In the last part of 2013 AAM did not compare one newspaper with another since each could use different methods*** of counting. AAM's September 2013 report measured individual newspaper growth, and that not so competently given the 1 reader can = 5 subscribers metric.
For those seeking real insight on U.S. newspaper circulation trends, the "audience gainers" chart is of little use. It headlines, not the Wall Street Journal, or the New York Times, or USA Today, but the Stamford, Connecticut Advocate, the Akron, Ohio Beacon Journal, and the Lakeland, Florida Ledger. All probably fine newspapers, but not news outlets the rest of the country pays attention to.
For the last six months there has been no content on the circulation report page. Finally, this week AAM posted the notice on the web page: "This product has been discontinued. Sorry for the inconvenience, please contact AAM for more information."
With the changes it made in 2013 AAM has basically thrown in the towel on a century of work. It looks like the March 2014 report due out in the next two weeks will follow in the same meaningless footsteps AAM laid down last September.
*[this information updated] founded as Audit Bureau of Circulations in 1914
**"If a publication doesn’t have any editorial content, it may still qualify as a branded edition. A publication without editorial content that primarily delivers freestanding inserts, such as Sunday Select or TMC products, may still qualify as branded circulation if the consumer requests the product."
***"Some newspapers take advantage of these options and others do not, eliminating seemingly forever the possibility of comparing apples-to-apples data across the industry -- or even from year to year for the same publication, if it changes its reporting standards over time."