ABC revises figures for Guardian and Observer

Dispute over multiple sales

Sales of The Guardian and The Observer were overstated by thousands of copies for three months last year, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation.

ABC this week issued new figures for both papers covering last August, September and October.

It follows an inspection of data by ABC which has ruled that some multiple copy sales to health clubs claimed by Guardian Newspapers should be removed from their audited sales.

The August figure for The Guardian’s average sales has been cut from 390,041 to 378,479 and The Observer’s from 452,331 to 429,362.

The new September figure for The Guardian is 431,078 compared with 442,454 and The Observer’s has been reduced from 514,117 to 491,396.

The new October figure shows Guardian sales at 427,923 against the previous figure of 439,029; and The Observer at 468,907 compared with 483,062.

The new figures mean that sharp percentage rises reported for the two papers have had to be revised downwards. New sales figures for the six months to the end of February now show that The Guardian is up year-on-year by 3.64 per cent and not 4.68 per cent as previously reported. Similarly, The Observer is up year-on-year by 4.76 per cent and not 6.36 per cent as reported.

The figures were based on a circulation return submitted by Guardian Newspapers which had been audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

ABC said in a statement: "As the result of a routine inspection of The Guardian and The Observer it was found that a number of copies claimed under the ‘multiple copy sales’ category infringed the ABC audit rules. As a result their certificates have been re-issued, removing these copies from the circulation claims."

Guardian Newspapers, which lost an appeal against the ABC ruling, said it was disappointed with the decision and the way ABC has interpreted its guidelines.

It said in a statement: "The copies of The Guardian and The Observer which have been removed from our ABC figures for August, September and October 2001 relate to our multiple copy sales in health clubs. Guardian Newspapers Ltd has a limited and well-targeted multiple copy sales strategy for the sole purpose of converting readers and driving full-price sale. While we do not agree with the ABC’s ruling, GNL has changed the way it handles its multiple copy sales so that no further copies will be discounted."

Guardian Newspapers said its full-price sales are the highest in the market, with 86 per cent for The Guardian and 87 per cent for The Observer.

One industry insider noted that most national quality daily and Sunday papers had been putting on sales year-on-year but added: "The Guardian seemed to be performing miracles."

By Jon Slattery

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