Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Editorial: No Circ Free-for-All

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Editorial: No Circ Free-for-All

Article excerpt

Apparently, there's a new circulation scandal in the newspaper industry. But this one isn't about tossing bundles in the dumpster, fudging returns numbers, or paying retailers for copies they can't sell. No, this just-discovered scandal concerns newspapers that -- get this -- deliver copies to targeted audiences coveted by advertisers. Shockingly, these readers don't have to dig into their own pockets to pay the six bits for their copy.

Wall Street is aghast. When Deutsche Bank analyst Paul Ginocchio uncovered this abominable practice -- by consulting Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) reports where third-party sales have been documented in plain view for the past three years -- he gave his report the NC-17 title "Circulation Uncensored." Analysts increasingly talk about something they call "quality circulation," as if stories or ads are somehow illegitimate unless the reader has been separated from his or her 50 cents.

Now newspapers seem to be catching the hysteria, and are acting as if they should be ashamed that advertisers and other sponsors want to reach customers by buying into the most effective mass medium ever conceived. Papers such as the Los Angeles Times are talking about cutting back on sponsored sales, and it's a good bet that ABC will rewrite the rules it adopted in 2001 that qualified more third-party sales for top-line paid circulation.

This would be a good time for everybody to catch their breath. While it's always a good idea to be as clear as possible about who is paying for which copy, the industry and Wall Street also need to recognize that free distribution is an effective way to reach audiences, one that has worked for alternative papers for decades -- and may well be the future of daily newspapers. …

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