The Magazine Industry’s Dirty Secret

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Can circulation claims be trusted?

Magazine circulation secrets

Most companies conduct a financial audit once a year. Publishing companies, however, undergo an audit of their circulation. The audits are conducted by BPA Worldwide, the leading auditing service for business-to-business publications, and are increasingly important from an advertising standpoint.

When you invest in advertising, you are buying access to a publisher’s audience. The value of that audience is defined by who is in it and how they use the publication: receivership and readership, respectively. The BPA statement defines the receivership side of the equation.

An important fact to keep in mind about BPA audits is that they don’t generate information, but verify information already amassed and analyzed by publishers. This allows advertisers to objectively evaluate and compare magazines with an independent audit form or statement.

Among the first things you’ll see on the BPA statement are a description of the field served by the publication, a definition of recipient qualification, and the purpose of the publication. These items let an advertiser know the publication’s primary market segment and the types of individuals who receive it.

Section 1 deals with the average total qualified circulation, which is an average over the six months covered by the audit. This section includes qualified paid and nonpaid subscriptions. The number to note here is the total qualified circulation, because qualified subscribers are those most likely to be in a position to buy your products whether they are free or paid subscriptions.

Section 2 deals with the number of qualified subscribers by issue for the period. The “total qualified” number for the analyzed issue of the six-month period is the number on which the data in the remaining sections is based. It is typically the number quoted as a magazine’s total circulation.

The next section of interest is 3a, the business/occupational breakout of the qualified circulation. It tells the advertiser whether the publication reaches the customers it wants to reach by including the industries in which qualified subscribers work and their job functions. Section 3b of the statement covers the qualification source for the audited issue. An advertiser can learn a great deal about the quality of the circulation from the information provided. One of the more important parts of this section is the “Qualified Within” table. This reports the percentage and number of subscribers who have renewed their subscriptions within a one-, two-, or three-year period.

Section 4 of the BPA statement deals with the distribution of a publication. This gives advertisers a clear picture of what regions are receiving the publication.

Publishers are also given the opportunity to invest in reporting supplemental data on their subscribers with two additional sections. One shows the products that the subscribers use, recommend, and/or specify. The other shows the technologies and/or sciences the subscriber works with.

Through careful examination of the BPA statement, advertisers can learn a lot about a publication’s ability to reach desired target markets and can clear the smoke surrounding a publication’s circulation claims. Advertisers can also help themselves make educated decisions regarding the publication they choose to invest in.

Published: May 2019
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