What is a circulations audit system?
A print circulation audit system is a combination of rules, regulations, and protocols - backed by a team of people, operations and infrastructure, and independent verification. It aim is to be capable of delivering to the marketplace a true picture of the circulation performance of the audited publications.
Only publishers possess the real and full picture of their title's circulation performance. By creating an ABC and its audit system, the advertising industry creates a mirror that most accurately reflects this performance. The picture must be clear, credible, understandable and unbiased. The data reported must be 100 percent reliable, comparable to similar other media indicators, and delivered in a timely manner.
The technical essence of the circulation audit is to independently verify the documentation and accounting of the publishers (in general by chartered public accountants), which act as proof of the different circulation types and quantities of a given publication, in a given time period.
The subject of the audits are the publishers, while the advertisers and media agencies, as well as the public, at large, are the consumers of the audited data. The role of the publishers is to take part in the audits, while the role of the other two other arms of the market is to formulate their needs relative to the data, which will be audited and published, and to manage the audit standards and processes. The three parties should work together on establishing the most pratical, valid and reliable audit system for a given market.
Why have audited circulation?
1. To provide assurance to advertisers that the circulation they are buying is being delivered
2. To provide the assurance to the advertisers that the circulation of all audited media vehicles are being reported on the same basis:
- Standard Definitions
- Uniform qualifications
- Comparable reports
3. To provide the assurance that their competitors are being measured on the same objective and vigorous basis as they are
4. To bring discipline and credibility to the print marketplace
Definition for Print
It is up to each and every ABC to create its own set of terms based on the actual market situation.
Here is a list of the different circulation terms to be defined:
- Print run: the number of copies printed and/or which enter the distribution system/channels. The different cases of printing (by subcontractors or in own printing house) should be taken into consideration.
- Paid copies: in general the definition of the paid copy is the amount of money the final buyer/reader is paying for the full price of a copy of a publication. There is a need to fix a basic, or reference price, to which the auditors will compare the payments made by buyers (or publisher's income), in order to identify which copies were paid ( according to the definition), and which were not.
- Different paid distribution types via subscriptions, single copy sales, bulk sales, etc.
- Returns: the number of copies delivered for newsstand sales that were not sold at the end of the distribution cycle.
- Back sales, or sales on arrears.
- Free distribution: copies distributed at request, promotional, etc.
Here is a list of terms that are used to identify a given publication, its issue and various forms:
- what is a publication?
- what are its geographical and content particulars?
- what is the issue of a publication? its content and other features, which make a series of printed copes unique, with each and every copy of the issue being identical?
- Frequency of publication: there is a need for clear and unambiguous definition of the different frequency of issues (how many issues determine a daily, weekly, monthly, etc. publication).
- Identifying variable for a single issue: the information upon which a specific issue of the publication can be uniquely identified. These variables can be: content, serial (issue number, cover price (subscription rates), International Standard Serial Number (ISSN), etc.
- Distribution cycle: the time period in which actual distribution of a given issue of a publication occured. This is strongly related to the frequency of issue.
An audit certificate shall contain only data that is auditable. Auditable data must be fully supported by verifiable and indisputable proofs (documents and information).
Here is an example of a list of circulation data to be displayed on a certificate:
- Number of copies printed and delivered to the different distribution channels.
- Copies sold via subscriptions.
- Copies sold at newsstands.
- Other types of sales
- Copies distributed for free
- Other types of distribution.
The cornerstone of an audit system rests on its definitions of terms. It is essential to define each and every aspect that will be audted, related to the audit, and/or published. There are several types of terms to be defined: description of a publicatin, its identifying factors, circulation terms, etc.