Verified on The Rise

Some publishers may have some explaining to do when the Audit Bureau of Circulations Feb. 9 releases its Fas-Fax circ report covering the second half of 2008.

A survey of Rapid Report data by Mediaweek last week showed many publications increased their reliance on verified, or free public-place copies. The upticks come at a time when publishers are facing sharp declines in single-copy sales. Media buyers tend to raise an eyebrow when titles hike their verified, especially when it is used to meet the title’s rate-base guarantee or represents more than 5 percent of its total circulation.

At Hearst Magazines’ Seventeen, verified rose to 120,000 copies in November, up from an average of 67,036 in the first half of ’08. Sister pub Marie Claire’s verified averaged 39,167 in the second half, up from 587 in the first half. A Hearst rep noted that at both titles, verified accounted for less than 5 percent of total paid and verified circ.

Elsewhere, Time Inc.’s Entertainment Weekly steadily increased verified to over 50,000 copies per issue (2.9 percent of total paid and verified circ) toward the end of the second half from an 18,989 average in the first half. Another big gainer was Bonnier Corp.’s Parenting, where verified rose to 158,727 copies in the second half, or 7.5 percent of total paid and verified, from 73,163 in the first half. A rep attributed the increase to a shift of analyzed non-paid circ copies to verified.

Nevertheless, with newsstand sales down, some women’s books still had rate-base misses in the second half even as verified rose. Hearst’s Redbook missed its 2.2 million-rate base by 400 copies for the period. Seventeen and Marie Claire each fell short on two issues (full second-half figures weren’t yet reported). Condé Nast’s Vogue fell off by 3,717 copies for  July. Another title having a tough time on newsstand was Hearst’s Cosmopolitan, which was short on three issues but made its rate base by a 1 percent margin for the period.

Since this story was filed, Redbook revised its second-half numbers on Rapid Report. The latest filing showed that the title exceeded its rate base for the period by 0.4 percent, or 9,059 copies, despite missing its rate base for its November and December issues.

Buyers are watching. “With softness in newsstand, we definitely look at verified as a viable means for lifting circulation, as long as it’s consistent month-to-month and stays in the 5 percent range,” said Dennis Santos, media director at PGR Media. “What concerns us is when you see erratic use. A number of magazines, if they didn’t have verified, wouldn’t meet their rate base.”

Kelly Foster, print director, senior partner, MindShare USA, said that in addition to increases in verified at some titles in the second half of ’08, she’s seen an uptick in rock-bottom subscription offers—prices that she said call into question the title’s wantedness. “We’re seeing far too many offers of really inexpensive subs, or buy one, get three years, which is concerning,” Foster said. “Why wouldn’t they just reduce circulation? They’re not making any money at that point.”