Industry auditor the ABC is facing criticism from magazine publishers for releasing headline sales figures which do not reflect digital growth.
ABC figures for some 516 consumer magazines were published yesterday, showing their sales performance for the second half of 2012. While they revealed an average rate of print decline of around five per cent, growing digital edition sales were not included in these figures and sales of interactive tablet apps did not figure in the release at all.
Writing a piece for the website of Campaign yesterday, Condé Nast president Nicholas Coleridge said: “For the first time in my life, the question ‘What is your circulation?’ and ‘What is your ABC?’ is no longer interchangeable. This is because the British ABC has been much slower than the other advanced media markets to integrate digital replica sales into the headline circulation figure.
”For the sake of clarity, a replica edition is the complete magazine – every article, every advertisement – paid for and downloaded on to an iPad or other tablet, and read exactly like the print version. Over the past 18 months, sales of these replica editions have sky-rocketed, and are becoming a normal and accepted way to read magazines.
“At British GQ, for example, 12 per cent of all paid sales are now of replica apps – readers buy them for the same price as a subscription and find them a convenient and modern way to enjoy the magazine. Several times, I have spotted cool young men reading GQ on their iPads at Terminal 5 – and these tablet readers are bang on brand.
”Why the ABC has been so slow to embrace the digital revolution is one of the mysteries of the day, and very frustrating. The United States has been including replica sales in its headline ABC figure for several years, ditto France and Australia. “
The PPA yesterday published its own combined digital and print circulation chart. But even that does not include sales of interactive apps.
ABC chief executive Jerry Wright insisted the ABC “is showing itself to be innovative, agile, and responsive to the market”.
In an interview with Press Gazette he said: ”The truth is the ABC is at the forefront of moves to measure and report digital sales of magazines and newspapers – whether websites, replica digital editions, or the more flexible digital publication format. “
He argued the ABC’s new QuickView feature – which allows the creation of custom reports based on multiple platforms – was exactly what the industry was calling for, contrary to Coleridge’s claims.
“Many buyers want to look beneath the headline figure, and to be honest the real value of ABC data often comes when you begin to look below the headline data, into what price these [publications] were sold at, and where they were sold. It’s the granularity of the data that ABC delivers across both digital and print data that adds real value.”
Wright insisted the industry as a whole, as represented by the ABC board, did not agree with Coleridge’s views: “The ABC board at the moment has decided that it doesn’t want to add those figures together, but it does want to report each of these individual elements in as much detail as possible. And that’s what we are doing.”
And he concluded by underlining his view that the ABC not only remained at the forefront of circulation auditing, but would continue to do so: “We’ve innovated more in the last year than probably in our history, because we know we have to respond and measure these new [publishing] vehicles as they arrive.”
Meanwhile, in an opinion piece for Media Week published after the release of yesterday’s ABC figures Lucie Cave, editor of Heat Magazine, said: “it's becoming more and more evident that the twice-annual publishing of consumer magazine circulations is increasingly just part of the story for multi-platform media brands such as Heat”.
The publisher Future also contacted Press Gazette yesterday to point out that the published ABC figures do not tell full the story.
Chief executive Mark Wood said: "Future continues to set the pace in terms of transitioning to digital publishing models, and is the clear market leader in digital editions.
“Combining our 92,590 monthly ABC-audited standard digital editions with our separately ABC-audited 38,412 interactive editions, we deliver a Group audited circulation of 131,002. Which means Future delivers about one third of all the audited digital editions in the period.
“And combining standard (11,158) and interactive (18,005) digital edition circulations for T3 show it to have by far and away the biggest digital edition circulation in the UK."