New Circulation Rule Puts Spotlight on Ski, Skiing Magazines

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SAM Magazine-New York, Aug. 24, 2006-The news that Ski and Skiing have shifted significant portions of their circulation from "paid" to "verified," a new circulation category recognized by the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), has reminded industry advertisers once again of the need to evaluate the various types of circulation reported (verified or not) by all magazines that serve winter sports.

The latest news: a recent change in ABC reporting rules has shifted 55% of Ski's total circulation, a bit more than 250,000 of the magazine's 450,000 rate base, from paid to the verified column; at Skiing, 35% moved similarly. Measured as a percentage of total circulation, the verified circulations of Ski and Skiing rank 2 and 3 among all 800 members of ABC, trailing only Travel & Leisure Golf.

ABC established the "verified" classification in 2005, but figures for the category were first reported in July, and applied to the first six months of 2006. The term applies to circulation publishers have reported as "sponsored" in the past. This classification enables publishers to count, as part of an audited magazine's total circulation, copies distributed to targeted public places, as well as to individuals who have an affinity for the editorial content, without the requirement of a payment "net of all considerations." For free, in short.

These are the magazines that show up in doctor's offices, barber shops, on airplanes, and in the home mailboxes of individuals as part of an association membership, season's pass purchase, or other means. Ski's verified circulation includes subscriptions received by NASTAR participants, for example, while Skiing's verified numbers include Warren Miller Film Tour ticket buyers. (For more discussion on this, see "The Wacky, Wonderful World of Circulation," SAM November 2005.)

As more and more readers have turned to the Internet for free editorial content and magazines have found it harder and harder to maintain their paid rate bases, even popular mass-market magazines are reporting a portion of their circulation as "verified." But Time Inc. has relied on this strategy more than most; its Field & Stream, Golf, Parenting, and Time itself are among the top 15 major magazines with the highest percentage of "verified" circulation.

With the extent of its verified-but-not-paid circulation in the spotlight, Time Inc. in particular finds itself in the new position of defending the value of its non-paid readers. Ski and Skiing have long touted the value of their audited, paid circulation over that of other magazines that are not audited, such as Powder and Freeskier, or that are solely distributed for free, such as Ski Press. Now, Ski and Skiing must explain how their free distribution is different from that of their rivals. Spokespeople cite company studies that, they say, demonstrate their verified readers are "about" as engaged as paid subscribers. And readers who are engaged are the key, whether they paid for their magazines or not, the spokesmen claim.


Are two blend ski mags (Ski & Skiing) really necessary?

It's interesting that the new rule takes the veil off what has been a recurring contentious issue between Ski/Skiing and its advertisers. Clearly, in this internet age, Magazines are indeed struggling and in spite of the adverse business conditions, making a lot of bad moves and apparently not being able to "get it". A few days ago, I was at Barnes & Nobles perusing the new ski mag issues and was struck to see 1) that there's still no visible differentiation between Ski and Skiing (Powder in contrast, remains quite distinctive), 2) that the ad/editorial ratio is out of control and creates a visual, unpleasant maze, and 3) that creativity remains a dying quality (for instance the first issues of Powder or Snow Country that stood in stark contrast to Ski and Skiing).