The Audit Bureau of Circulations is in the process of streamlining newspaper audits through a new initiative called Audit Fast Track. The idea is to conduct audits in a centralized location at ABC headquarters in Schaumberg, Ill., as opposed to newspapers hosting agents on site.
Publishers will be able to send circulation data electronically to ABC throughout the year. The bureau plans to have the majority of its audits conducted through the Audit Fast Track system by September 2010.
"We are excited about this prospect," said Mike Moran, executive vice president, audit services for ABC. The low "intrusiveness factor" is one benefit, said Moran, who added ABC is trying to hold down costs going forward. "[An auditor] knocking on your door saying I need this and I need this right now, if an audit can be relaxed this puts in a relaxed state."
ABC has been conducting centralized audits for its magazine members for years as well as for about 125 newspapers -- including those in the Lee Enterprises and Gannett chains -- for five years.
Moran doesn't think that an "out of site" auditor is cause for concern. For the newspapers that have been undergoing centralized audits there has been "no change in the integrity of the process or the audit," he said.
A typical audit can vary depending on the systems used by newspapers, how organized a newspaper is, its size and the scope of audited products. An audit at an average metro can take about six to 10 weeks. An auditor may spend eight of those weeks on site, requesting data and crunching the numbers. With Audit Fast Track the entire process could drop to about four or five weeks.
"If I'm an auditor the clock is ticking," said Moran. "There's a lot of pressure to get me in and out as quickly as possible. In this process the publisher sends us data" -- throughout the year. "It's much more convenient to publishers, and that has been a big selling point."
The Audit Bureau does not plan to decrease audit fees but it notes it has not had a rate increase in three years. The cost of an audit is variable depending on the newspaper though the typical range for a 50,000 circulation daily, for example, runs around $8,000 to $12,000.
ABC currently has more than 100 auditors in the field. The organization is in the process of posting job openings for the centralized openings.
The bureau will also send auditors on site for specific reasons like say the auditing of a total market coverage product. "We will have a field staff, the plan is to do as much work as we can through a centralized location," Moran said.