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Publishers, Buyers Brace for Gains in Verified Circ.

Two years ago, the Audit Bureau of Circulations cast a spotlight on magazines' use of public-place copies when it created the new category of verified circ. The rule was intended to meet media buyers' demands for transparency. And when the data became available, some pounced, railing against the common practice by magazines of using verified to plug shortfalls in their rate base.

Buyer scrutiny is likely to heat up now that ABC has required that public-place-sponsored copies be reclassified as such as of January 2008.

By folding the public-place-sponsored category into verified, the board was acknowledging the scant difference between verified, which is free to the host location, and sponsored, for which a sponsor pays as little as a penny per copy.

Verified and sponsored represent a relatively small amount of total circ, but some publishers are heavier users than others. In the second half of last year, sponsored represented 2.7 percent of total circ, or 9.8 million copies, per ABC. Verified represented 3.8 percent of circulation, or 13.6 million copies.

The biggest users of all sponsored, which could include copies sent to individuals, included Newsweek, with 519,180 copies in the second half of last year; U.S. News & World Report, with 273,251 copies; and Ziff Davis' PC Magazine, with 173,384 copies.

Filings to ABC's Rapid Report show increases in the verified column, as magazines have been shoveling sponsored into the verified bucket. In the second half of last year, Hearst Magazines' Good Housekeeping's verified circ averaged 144,491 of its 4.63 million circ. In the first three issues of 2008, its verified jumped to 225,000.

At Cond? Nast's Golf Digest, verified more than doubled in the first three issues of 2008. It averaged 70,501 of its 1.64 million circ in the second half of 2007. Alpha Media Group's Maxim's verified jumped to above 200,000 this year from 48,141 in the first half of 2007.

ABC created the verified circ category, in part, as a response to buyers' concerns that magazines were giving advertisers special treatment in exchange for sponsoring copies.

Still, with verified has come a new set of concerns.

Some media buyers have refused to pay for copies that are part of the rate base, questioning the value of copies that people read in doctors' offices and other public places but that they don't pay for.

Robin Steinberg, senior VP and director of print investment and activation at MediaVest, said the rule change would provide print buyers with more information about copies that used to be known as sponsored, as publishers must provide details about locations where verified copies are served.

"I'll be able to quantify and qualify where those copies are going," Steinberg said.

Dennis Santos, media director at PGR Media, said his agency generally takes a hard line when it comes to verified circ and would be paying close attention to the verified category when publishers' statements covering the first half of 2008 are released.

"For the most part, our feeling is verified doesn't carry the value of the other circulation," said Santos.

One company, American Media Inc., publisher of Star, Shape and Men's Fitness, didn't have verified circ before making the conversion of its sponsored copies and has been preparing its salespeople to answer questions about the change before they meet with clients.

"If you explain the jump before it happens," said David Leckey, executive vp, consumer marketing at AMI, "people understand why it happens."
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Author:Moses, Lucia
Publication:Editor & Publisher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 27, 2008
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