NatMags broke ABC rules with inflated sales figures

By Ruth Addicott

The National Magazine Company has had to restate the sales figures for nine of its magazines following an investigation by the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Esquire, She, Zest, House Beautiful and Prima Baby have been forced to reveal a sales decline instead of an increase for their ABC figures for January to June 2002. Prima, Good Housekeeping and Best show even bigger falls in sales than originally reported.

Despite an appeal and lengthy discussions, ABC found NatMags had infringed the rules and inflated bulk sales by distributing magazines free with paid-for regional and national newspapers.

The discovery comes five months after NatMags issued its original figures and three months after Emap was found guilty of breaking the rules with 14 of its titles.

It is a setback for NatMags and it is unclear how advertisers will respond.

The investigation shows a disparity as high as 11.4 per cent for Prima Baby, which has had to change its original ABC of 61,332 to 54,352. Esquire and Zest also show substantial differences. Esquire reported a steady ABC of 62,005 and 0.0 movement in August after consecutive circulation falls following a relaunch the year before. The latest findings reveal its true ABC to be 56,172 – a drop of 9.4 per cent year-on-year.

NatMags managing director Duncan Edwards told Press Gazette: “It is disappointing and a little embarrassing but we didn’t do anything wrong. The process we went through with ABC has been entirely fair and we have co-operated fully. We were very open about it and the way they were distributed.” Edwards said he was not aware of any other publisher using the same distribution method.

“It was a pretty innovative promotion and we assumed that because these magazines were part of a package that was being purchased, it would be claimable by the bulk rule,” he added. There is no suggestion the copies in question were not delivered to consumers.

NatMags issued a statement saying: “We are happy to give a detailed explanation about all our promotions. Clearly we regret that this misinterpretation of the ABC rules has led us to this restatement.”

It added that it would continue to use different techniques to market and sample its titles “ensuring that any claims comply with ABC rules”.

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