Both major Australian newspaper publishers have weighed into the circulation rorts issue in another big story in today’s Financial Review with predictable denials of any wrongdoing – and also rejecting calls for any kind of independent inquiry.

But
in a telling comment in today’s story, Fairfax group marketing director
Sue Zerk says: “There might be scope for a study to ensure no dodgy
practices are going on, but how do you audit an auditor?”

Both
Zerk and News Limited CEO John Hartigan dismiss claims of circulation
rorting and attempt to marginalise the debate. But in a comment piece
alongside today’s new story, AFR media commentator Neil Shoebridge puts his finger on the real issues with these observations:

Many marketers and media buyers, the people who spend marketers’ money, have little faith in the current circulation system…

Ask
most media buyers for their view on the recent batch of claims that
newspaper publishers use free and discounted copies to pump up their
circulation numbers and their responses range from yawns to laughter.

The
people yawning have heard such claims for decades. The people laughing
are amused that anyone believes newspaper circulation figures are
kosher.”

From the US, meanwhile, comes more circulation fraud allegations – this time in a legal suit by an angry advertiser:

A real estate advertiser has accused a major American newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, of circulation fraud.

Shorewest
Realtors is suing the paper for deliberately overstating circulation
since 1996 and using the “artificially inflated rates to
surreptitiously overcharge” the home-seller for advertising,

According to a story in the Journal Sentinel itself, the suit alleges the newspaper systematically inflates its circulation by:

  • Distributing free to homes, businesses, on the street and at large gatherings such as parades and sporting events.
  • Throwing copies into dumpsters which were never distributed.
  • Donating copies to schools.
  • Distributing to apartment tenants as part of a scheme in which the
    subscription cost was included in the rent, then “kicking back” to the
    apartment complex manager.

The suit claims the Journal Sentinel
has been overstating its circulation for the last nine years as it
faced a stagnant market share and increasing competition from other
media outlets. During the period, the paper’s Monday-Friday circulation
declined from nearly 290,000 to about 240,000, according to figures
reported to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Read the full story here.


And
Mark Fletcher and Tom Carter of the United Newsagents of Australia, a
new body representing Australian newsagents on national issues, sent
this comment to Crikey:

We have been following with interest your reportage in relation to circulation reporting by newspaper and magazine publishers.

Newsagents
adhere to stringent reporting requirements. In terms of home delivery
and wholesale sales, newsagents provide data on a daily and weekly
basis as required by the publishers and distributors.

We are
certain that newsagents would welcome an independent audit of their
data capture and management processes to assuage concerns by publishers
about these processes.

Given the publicity surrounding your
reports and recent reports from the United States of newspaper
circulation reporting rorts, we call upon the publishers to agree to an
independent audit for the good of everyone involved in the newspaper
and magazine supply chain.

Consumers, advertisers and newsagents need to know they can trust the audit figures.