Thursday, May 01, 2014

Alliance for Audited Media Is a Joke: Newspaper Circulation Up 94% Since Last Year?

Alliance for Audited Media (formerly Audit Bureau of Circulations) released its March 2014 report today. Here's AAM's summary:
- The report contains data for 610 U.S. newspapers.
- Approximately 300 newspapers reported a Monday-Friday average, while others reported additional multiday averages.
- 531 newspapers reported digital editions.
- 127 reported branded editions as part of their total circulation.
- The top three U.S. newspapers by total average circulation are: USA Today (3,255,157), Wall Street Journal (2,294,093) and New York Times (2,149,012).
[emphasis added]
Only three "total average circulation" figures are listed. That should be fairly easy to comment on.

But, as of 4 pm (ET), Editor&Publisher has not taken a swing at it other than to post a link to the AAM blog post cited above. Neither has Mediabistro (whose last report on AAM circulation releases was a year ago). Not even the intrepid Newsosaur Allan Mutter has tried to analyze the AAM data.

The only unflinching attempt at making some sense of the figures comes from Poynter's Andrew Beaujon. He manfully tries to explain the figures and compare them to previous reports. Good luck on that.

Let's just take the AAM figure for the New York Times "total average circulation": 2,149,012. It doesn't appear in Beaujon's analysis. Nor does the phrase "total average circulation".  Beaujon writes of Monday-Friday circulation and Sunday circulation, but not "total" circulation. Here's Beaujon:
Average Monday-Friday circulation at The New York Times was 15 percent higher for the six months ending March 2014 than it was in the same period the year before, new figures from the Alliance for Audited Media say. But that figure includes 126,162 branded editions, which AAM rules allow newspapers to roll in alongside print and digital circulation. (A branded edition could be a total market coverage publication containing coupons, for example, or a Spanish-language edition.)
The Times has never before included branded editions in its circulation totals, Times spokesperson Linda Zebian told Poynter in an email. Those figures “are comprised of the International New York Times, and are included in the circulation for every day except Sunday,” Zebian wrote.
Subtract those and the gain is a little more than 8 percent. The paper’s average Sunday circulation went up 8 percent over the year before, to 2,517,307, a figure that does not roll in any branded editions.
[emphasis added]
Beaujon helpfully supplies a "15 percent higher" circulation notation and explains that 126,162 of that number is from "branded editions" which means an actual increase of "a little more than 8 percent". But, if you can figure out anything certain from Beaujon's analysis and the AAM blog information, you're better at this than I am.

How about USA Today's 3,255,157? Nope.
USA Today posted another eye-popping circulation increase that fully avails itself of AAM’s rules: A 94 percent rise in average Monday-Friday circulation that includes 668,054 branded editions, as well as 1,365,388 “digital nonreplica” editions, which includes app users. (Sam Kirkland wrote about USA Today’s renewed approach to circulation figures last year.)
Gannett began including a “butterfly edition” of USA Today in some of its local papers last year.
[emphasis added]
The Wall Street Journal's 2,294,093? Yes, finally!
Average Monday-Friday circulation at The Wall Street Journal fell by 3.5 percent, to 2,294,093. Circulation of its weekend edition was also down 3.5 percent, to 2,321,996.
[emphasis added]
Beaujon does give us a puzzle piece here. AAM's "total average circulation" equals "average Monday-Friday circulation". It's also clear, from the omission of "branded", "digital nonreplica" and "butterfly edition" in the Wall Street Journal stats that they are probably comparable to previous circulation figures.

Newspaper circulation hasn't gone up 15% (AAM NYT figures), let alone 94% (AAM USA Today) in the last year. It probably has fallen by about 3.5% (AAM Wall Street Journal).

The funny thing is even AAM realizes its current reporting is useless. In celebration of its 100th anniversary this year, AAM published just last month some 1914 reports and some contemporary reports of various newspapers. But, AAM didn't wait 30 days for the March 2014 report and a real 100th anniversary visual celebration.  Instead it included its first and last helpful reports: December 1914 and March 2013. Visually, AAM was celebrating its 99th anniversary. Not using the 100th year March 2014 report as the point of comparison is a sad and telling omission.

As of its 99th year, Alliance for Audited Media has turned itself into a joke.


MAX Redline said...

Oh baloney! Subscriptions are dropping but circulation's leaping upward? Maybe if they drop copies on buses and trains and count every rider as a "circulator".

Oh, and every Oil Can Henry's customer gets a "free" copy of USA Today so they have something to do other than watch the oil-change process. I've no doubt that ploys like that bump up the "circulation" figures as well.

If circulation's actually increasing, then ad revenues should follow suit. Near as I can tell, they don't. And The Oregonian's probably counting the stuff they toss in our driveway every Tuesday and Sunday as "circulation" too. In my case, they generally go from driveway to recycling bin. Maybe the haulers count in the circulation figures....

T. D. said...

Which is why AAM's "report" is now a joke. Not useful for anyone. Not advertisers (since 1 reader can be counted five or six times) and not for those are interested in knowing how individual newspapers are faring.

We know from NYT's financial report that just came out that a supposed 15% increase in circulation didn't do anything for their bottom line.

It seems the only way to measure a newspaper's circulation is via its statement of ownership, management and circulation that is usually published in October.