The Australian today reports that the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the publishing industry body, will report at the end of the month on progress in its three-month “review of the audit process,” which follows Crikey’s series on rorts and fraud in the newspaper and magazine circulation game.

Of course, the “review” will give the industry a clean bill of health, while probably recommending a few tame additions to the audit code – after all, it’s the publishers investigating the publishers over the credibility of the publishers. It would be like asking chefs to review their own restaurants.

But today’s story does suggest that the publishers are beginning the process of softening up advertisers to the reality of “audited” newspapers circulations which are highly inflated by the inclusion of vast numbers of free or almost-free copies – with this comment by the ABC’s chairman (and News Limited head of strategic development) Stephen Hollings:

“Dr Hollings said the real issue was not whether discounted copies were included in average sales but to what extent those copies were delivering an audience advertisers wanted to reach.”

In other words, forget the audited circulation and assume the dumped copies are being read by the right people. Now that’s a real strategic development.