Hispanic Papers Hang Hopes On Circulation Audits

Spanish-language newspapers are multiplying, and readership is growing, but advertising revenue remains hamstrung by weak or nonexistent circulation audits, industry experts said as they prepared for a summit that will address the issue.

The event, the National Association of Hispanic Publications’ Miami Ad Summit, takes place this week. The Washington-based association is in the midst of a major auditing push, which will be a central topic at the summit.

“We can’t afford to break or even bend those rules which determine legitimacy in the marketplace among newspapers in general and—at the end—determine our business viability,” said NAHP president Hernán Guaracao, publisher of Al Dia, a daily published in Dallas by The Belo Corp.

National print advertising in Hispanic publications has more than tripled from $82 million to $311 million since 1995, according to Kirk Whisler, president of Western Publication Research in Carlsbad, Calif.; with local print ads, the total is $1.1 billion. That figure represents only about 20 percent of overall Hispanic ad spending, most of which goes to TV and radio, according to the NAHP.

Kim Chance, group media director at Publicis’ Bromley/Interlink in San Antonio, said her clients not only prefer broadcast because of its broader reach, but also because the audience is monitored by A.C. Nielsen and Arbitron. “We have major accounts that will not even consider publications that are not audited,” she said. “That’s been a major problem with papers in the past and the reason they don’t get the money they think they should.”

The NAHP has tapped Western Publication Research to research circulation issues such as the impact of paid readership vs. free distribution, and it will report its progress at the summit. “There certainly is more research going on than has ever happened in Hispanic print,” Whisler said. “Up through the middle of the 1990s, national advertisers were not paying much attention to the sector.”

One of the problems has been the inability of small community publications to pay for audits. One paper that is audited, the Tribune Co.-owned Hoy in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, is in the midst of a circulation scandal, and executives have admitted to inflating circulation numbers by as much as 19 percent last year. Hoy advertisers are being reimbursed.

There are four main auditors of the Hispanic press, with the largest mainstream press auditor, the Audit Bureau of Circulations, fourth in the Hispanic market. The other top Hispanic-press auditors are The Circulation Verification Council, the Verified Audit of Circulation and the Certified Audit of Circulations, Whisler said.

The CVC was hired late last month by Gemstone Communications and its specialized Ethnic Print Media Group to conduct a national audit of Hispanic community newspapers in the U.S.—the first comprehensive national audit to industry standards, said CVC president Tim Bingaman.

“This audit is the key to gaining credibility,” said Fernando Paramo, publisher of Hispanic newspaper group Impacto USA in Los Angeles. “If you don’t have credibility at this time, you might as well hang a ‘closed’ sign up on your business.”