Magazine article Marketing

Not as Easy as ABC?

Magazine article Marketing

Not as Easy as ABC?

Article excerpt

There are 2000 more business-to-business titles in the UK than there were in 1982. Andy Fry charts the rise of the independent audit and the battle between ABC and BPA

There is nothing very new about the observation that business-to-business publishing has experienced spectacular growth in the last decade.

Since 1982 the number of titles has risen from 2500 to 4500. Annual ad revenue has more than doubled over the same period peaking (according to the Advertising Association) at |pounds~838m in 1989, though dipping since.

The recession took its toll with magazine closures, declining revenue and companies tightening their belts. But those that weathered the storm look well set to start reinvesting and tempting advertisers back out of their shells. The AA predicts the sector will be worth nearly over |pounds~900m by 2004.

In retrospect what might strike advertisers as truly remarkable in these thoughtful days of value-for-money and minimising wastage is that most of the boom-time space buying was based on a mishmash of publisher claims with hardly a whiff of independent, authoritative research.

That's not to imply (heaven forbid) that publishers are crooked and would ever attempt to deceive naive young space buyers, but such an omission now seems something of an anomaly.

The best form of independent audit available in those media dark ages came from the well-established US operation Business Press Audit (BPA) which for ten years has provided high standard demographic circulation data to those who deem it necessary.

BPA started its UK operation as a service for UK-based titles which wanted to sell space in the US. This is an important strand of business in, for example, the computer magazine sector. BPA has since expanded the ambit of its service but perhaps lacks one element: the sense that it is a British institution tied first and foremost to the British publishing industry.

Enter the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC). Prior to 1990 the ABC had been pottering along for 60 years performing well enough as a circulation benchmark but without really concerning itself too much with the nitty gritty of business press demographics.

ABC deputy chief executive Richard Foan admits that while the BPA had been going for years "all ABC offered up until three years ago was the Media Data Call which was unaudited and only cost |pounds~40. It was really just a publisher's statement in standard ABC format."

By the early 90s it was apparent that this wasn't good enough. Business-to-business was worth too much not to be effectively researched.

This encouraged some to throw in their lot with BPA. Jane Garner is the marketing director of Reed Business Publishing's Computer Weekly. She says, "We wanted a level of sophisticated quality audits that ABC was not offering at the time, so we went with BPA. There had been a lot of poor quality circulation management and we wanted to prove our claims."

Publisher of Morgan Grampian's Design Engineering Trevor Crawford made the same move three to four years ago because "the market was becoming more sophisticated. There was a huge amount of data available via Morgan Grampian but we wanted to give our advertisers independent justification and backing." Design Engineering now has both ABC and BPA audits.

This desire to prove claims about the quality of circulation was becoming a priority for the whole business press. Findlay Publications' circulation manager Eric Knight says that circulation is the "engine room of publishing" but it is easy for some publishers to gloss over important details. "Publishers will cover up faults and make things look good."

The ABC Profile was launched in autumn 1991: "UK buyers and sellers wanted a UK product of independently-validated demographic data for business titles," says Foan, "because people weren't believing publishers' statements. If an independent body has audited the data then space buyers don't have to get involved in an argument about whether the facts are right or not. …

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