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Feb 08

In this guest post by Mark Hanzlik, CEO at HanzMediaInc, he discusses circulation audit firms that provide services for publications primarily in the U.S. and Canada.

We’ve been spending a lot of time lately analyzing the rapidly evolving web metrics measurement universe; primarily looking at which methodologies are the most accurate, reliable and which companies are best suited for our client’s needs. But many of our clients still reside in the brick & mortar world of print advertising, so, we thought it would be a good opportunity to look back at the print publishing circulation audit process—giving us a comparative view of both digital and print reporting.

It’s been some time since we last pounded the circulation audit drums for the publishing industry. Our impetus for previous analyses of the circulation audit process were driven primarily by advertisers looking for zip code targeted circulation reports. We’ve also offered circulation audit primers that reinforced the importance of using audit reports when selling print advertising space.

Comparing Newspaper Circulation

There’s no question print publications should be audited. Circulation audits continue to be important in today’s competitive ad marketplace. A publication receives additional value by turning the audits into an effective ad sales tool. An audit by a recognized firm brings credibility to a free-distribution publication for most ad media buyers and adds credibility to paid publications too. Also, an audit tells potential media buyers that a paper has invested in delivery quality and accountability. Ultimately, audits help publishers substantiate the number of copies printed and distributed. Like most readership studies, audits can also provide measurement over a period of time, which can help managers set sales goals and budgets.

A circulation audit levels the playing field across a variety of print products by providing ad buyers a standardized format. Any print media buyer who wants to assure quality in the media they are buying will ask for verification they are getting what they are paying for–-and copies of printers invoices won’t cut it.

Some firms charge based on circulation size and frequency, others charge based on the services provided or other factors. Circulation audits range anywhere from $1,500 to $7,500 for circulation auditing services.

Three important elements comprise basic audit services: The actual audit (on-site in most cases), verification (likely a survey), and the audit report (may not differ greatly, but one can be more valuable than the other). Additional services provided by audit firms may include training, competitive information, and market research.

From a paid publication perspective, the two leading firms are ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulation) and BPA International. These two non-profit auditing companies each list more than 2,000 paid publication titles as clients (ABC primarily audits daily newspapers along with consumer magazines and other titles; BPA primarily audits business publications with some consumer publications). Both firms also audit a large number of publications outside the U.S. and include some free publications in their portfolio.

The three firms that currently list a majority of their clients from the free paper industry are Certified Audit Circulation (CAC), Verified Audit Circulation (VAC), and Circulation Verification Council (CVC). While CAC was established as a non-profit like ABC and BPA, both VAC and CVC are private companies. These firms also provide audits for publications outside the U.S. and also audit paid publications.

Over the past decade, all of the audit firms have expanded beyond the traditional auditing services by offering web site auditing, circulation verification, and extensive readership and demographic studies. The base of business for the audit firms is pooled from all forms of printed matter: Newspapers (daily and weekly), community newspapers, TMC products, shoppers, trade and consumer magazines, business publications, alternate delivery, coupons, yellow page directories, ethnic publications, alternative newspapers, and other niche publications.

The auditing process varies slightly between firms. Examination of a publication’s printing, distribution and circulation records is a minimum requirement. Most audit firms perform a number of on-site audits that require a partnership with the publication’s circulation manager. Frequency and quality of on-site audits also vary. An extensive review of a publication’s support documents combined with these on-site visits, field audits in individual markets, and phone surveys helps to define the accuracy and dependability of the final audit results.

Auditors produce a large array of reports along with the other components of a publication’s media kit. Most audit firms can provide detailed geographic (zip code) breakouts of circulation for each audited publication, though the methodology for collecting that data may vary by firm. Audit reports contain a wealth of information including average total qualified circulation, paid vs. free distribution, delivery mode, ZIP code or other geographic breakdowns, and circulation history.

Circulation Audits are completed in short intervals, usually quarterly or twice-annually ending dates throughout the year, and are subject to expiration or invalidation unless renewal or continuous auditing takes place.

Audits are made up of these detailed processes: Press bills and/or press documents with financial support documents are used to verify print runs. Route lists with draw and return tracking for rack and store delivery are needed to substantiate single copy and controlled bulk/demand distribution delivery. Carrier lists or maps are required for home delivery, while USPS forms and receipts are necessary for mail circulation claims.

Now, this is how it gets done in the print media world and there hasn’t been much change over the past 50 years or so. Compare that to current web metrics methods of measurement and see if you think there’s a way to compare the two worlds. Advertisers and ad agencies are already well down this road, looking for answers themselves.


Circulation Verification Council (CVC) is an independent, third-party reporting audit company. CVC audits more than 4,900 editions nationwide with a combined circulation of more than 70 million. CVC audits cover printing, distribution, circulation, websites and readership studies to give an accurate picture of a publication’s reach and market penetration.

Circulation Verification Council (CVC) primarily audits free community newspapers and shoppers with large share of Parenting, African American, Hispanic, and a small number of alternative papers. CVC has strong ties to the AFCP (Assoc. of Free Community Papers), IFPA (Independent Free Papers of America) and won numerous association bids from regional and State groups over the past few years including FCPNY (Free Community Papers of New York) and WFCP (Wisconsin Free Community Papers).
Circulation Verification Council (CVC)
- St. Louis, MO
- 800-262-6392

Tim Bingaman, President

Verified Audit Circulation (VAC) audits a wide variety of free publications (over 1,000 titles) including community newspapers, shoppers, magazines, and niche publications (100+ alt weeklies in this group), and 250 paid newspapers. In this decade, VAC refocused its client base with growth in daily newspaper, magazine, alt weekly, and other niche publications including yellow page directories. Verified Audit, the first free paper audit firm was established in 1951.
Verified Audit Circulation (VAC)
- Larkspur, CA
- 415-461-6006

- www.verifiedaudit.com
Alan Levy, VP Market & Sales

Certified Audit Circulation (CAC) also audits a wide variety of free publications including community newspapers, shoppers, TMC’s, ethnic and paid daily newspapers. There are a few alternative weeklies audited by CAC at this time. Though structured much like ABC, CAC re-focused itself as needed, to provide audits in growing areas like ethnic, and they currently audit papers in Puerto Rico and Mexico. Established in 1956, CAC and VAC together served the free paper audit market exclusively for nearly four decades. CAC currently audits over 800 titles.
Certified Audit Circulation (CAC)
- Wayne, NY
- 973-785-3000

- www.certifiedaudit.com
Evelina Sodt, Marketing Director, x124

Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) primarily audits daily newspapers, consumer magazines, and business, farm publications. Additionally, they provide audits for weekly paid newspapers and TMC products. They have the lion’s share of the best-paying, most prestigious clients, which enables them to develop cutting-edge technological auditing and reporting features that are delivered mostly to the larger clients. In 2009, ABC launched Audit Fast Track, an initiative the revamps circulation audit model by shifting the physical location of the field auditor away from publisher’s office to an off-site location managed by ABC. This audit company has been around longer than dirt and boasts a roster of over 3,000 titles.
Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC)
- Arlington Heights, IL
- 224-366-6939

- www.accessabc.com
Michael Lavery, President & Managing Director

Business Publication Audit International (BPA) primarily audits business publications (estimated at 75% of their titles), consumer magazines, and newspapers for more than 2,000 total titles. BPA is a global provider of audited data to the marketing, media, and information industries, and serves two dozen countries. Audited data presently provided by BPA includes circulation of print publications, Web site traffic, newspapers, trade shows, industry databases, wireless communication, and other advertising-supported information providers.
BPA International (BPA)
- Shelton, CT
- 203-447-2800

- www.bpaww.com
Peter Black, Sr Vice President Sales & Marketing,

Print Circulation Audit Firms Continue to Survive in the 21st Century was written by Mark Hanzlik, CEO at HanzMediaInc, and was done as a guest post for TheMacWizard.

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