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Circulation Arcana

One of the worrying things about the publications we turn to for honest reporting is that they are not always all that strictly honest when reporting things about themselves, especially when reporting their circulation/readership numbers to advertisers. News publications do all sorts of things to artificially pump up those numbers, in order to command higher advertising rates. One of the things they do is give away, or practically give away, lots of copies for public spaces — doctors’ offices, business lobbies, shopping malls, even parking garages. 
Mediaweek reports that ABC, the big daddy of circulation auditors, is changing the way it counts  those copies:

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 IDG’s PC Magazine, with 173,384 copies.

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