12 Building a print circulations audit system

12.10. Audit and classification (claiming) rules

The audit certificate contains only part of the large volume of information that will be actually audited, The certificate will present the data in a standard format.

When claiming the data, the publisher will have to define the various types of data within this standard format by using the classification rules of the ABC. These classification rules serve the goal of reliability in comparing data.

For instance, suppose there are no clear rules of classifying the different issues into time periods, and suppose that the ABC is reporting data on monthly breakdowns. In one case, a weekly magazine may decide to group all its issues PRINTED in June into the June record, while another publisher may want to group into the June record all the copies which were DISTRIBUTED in June.

This time lag represents a significant difference based on how sales and readership patterns occur on an annual calendar and planning basis. Advertisers and media planners want to plan for June, for all publishers that are considered.

As another illustration, let’s look at the difference between printing and actual distribution of a publication. It may happen that an issue printed Thursday, May 31, may go into distribution on Thursday, June 2. If there are no precise specifications on how to classify the copies in these (and many other cases), the decision remains at the discretion of the publishers, which will surely and immediately lead to data inconsistency – and the comparison of two, or several publication will be done on wrong assumptions. An ABC cannot afford to have such inconsistency.

Here is a list of rules for classification that may be used by an ABC.

• Grouping the copies of the different issues into time intervals (for instance, if the reporting will be on a monthly basis, it should be clearly defined how the different issues of a weekly publication can be assigned within the different monthly intervals).
• Rules for assigning paid copies to paid categories, or not. (The ABC may decide to exclude from paid distribution reporting all copies which are not sold at 100 percent of the full price, or it may create several paid copies groups: 100 percent, between 50-100 percent, and below half price).
• If a title has different editions (which differ in content, price, size, etc.) for the same issue (mutations), it the ABC must be decide if the quantities of different mutations should be aggregated or not.
• Returns: what types of returns are allowed for reporting, and how should these be calculated?
• Are back copies (copies distributed in arrears) allowed or not? If yes, how should the publisher do the classification of this type of copies?
• Other copies to be excluded from reporting.

The list is far from being exhaustive, and – as in may cases by now – will be determined by the reporting needs of each ABC. And of course, by what auditable documents and information are acting in support of the different types of data.

The audit procedure should give instructions to publishers on how to handle the different reports, and should set deadlines for the different data transfers. An important note: if publishers are not supposed to send their circulation data to the ABC/auditor, it will be the task of the auditors to be familiar with the administration of the publishers in order to have a clear picture of the issue-by-issue transactions. Imagine how much work would be involved for a daily newspaper! The cost of audits will be significantly higher in this case – think twice before you decide on this, it may well be more cost effective to ask publishers to “crunch” some data for the auditors.

For instance, it is counterproductive not to have a final deadline for closing all the audits for a given audit period, for all ABC publications. Otherwise, a lack of a deadline will seriously impinge upon the ability of the audit to compare publications. This situation could lead to never-ending audits, which will seriously hurt the image of the ABC. This deadline should be within a few months following the end of the audit period. Our (Hungarian ABC) deadline is set for six months after the end of the audit period, which is the calendar semester.

The audit procedures should also regulate the relationship between publishers and auditors rights and obligations.

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