Home Under New Rules, Newspapers Increase Circulation by 400% Without Gaining Any Readers

Under New Rules, Newspapers Increase Circulation by 400% Without Gaining Any Readers

Newspaper circulation could soon jump wildly, thanks to new standards the industry recommended for itself.

The Audit Bureau of Circulations announced major changes to the way it counts digital readership today that will likely affect media that still rely on print very favorably. The new rules will allow newspapers to count a single subscriber multiple times if he or she pays or registers to access content via a print subscription, website, mobile reader or e-reader edition, among other changes to the way digital access is counted.

The changes could massively increase circulation numbers at outlets such as the New York Times, which has multiple mobile readers including a glossy iPad app, requires registration in order to access parts of its web site and plans to start charging for digital content next year.

Circulation was historically measured as the number of print subscriptions plus newsstand sales of newspapers, magazines and other publications, and was the basis for pricing ad space and attracting advertisers. However, this definition of circulation got murky as the Internet drew more readers away from dead-tree editions, making it harder for publishers to explain the size of their readership to advertisers.

The ABC, an organization that verifies circulation numbers of publications on behalf of advertisers, made the changes based on recommendations from a task force made up of its members and representatives from the Newspaper Association of America in order to “study the evolution of newspapers and the rapidly growing channels available to advertisers,” who still pay much more for print ads even as more readers demonstrate a preference for digital formats.

Starting in October, publishers can claim another “paid subscription” for every reader who accesses content online at least once every six months, as long as the subscriber has to register to see the content or pays at least 5% of his or her print subscription cost in order to access the digital version. In October 2011, readers must access digital content once per quarter to count as a paid subscription, and in October 2012, readers must access digital content once a week in order to be counted.

The rapidly-scaling standard suggests newspapers are playing catch-up to monetize an audience that started migrating to the Web a long time ago. The Internet makes it possible to know more about your readers than ever before – how many you have, what they look at, and who they are – but the old circulation auditing system seems to be struggling to adapt to the needs of advertisers and media in a digital world.

Image courtesy ShironekoEuro

ReadWriteWeb is a syndication partner of The New York Times.

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