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In This Week: Zombie Readers

MediaOne caught fudging its niche numbers.

By Josh Loftin
Photo by Night of the Living Dead // Zombies
Posted // November 12,2010 - The cover of the Sept. 30 In This Week showed a growling zombie, which promoted a story about the rise of the walking undead in pop culture. But inside that cover lurked another type of undead that had haunted the publisher and advertisers for months—ghost readers.

In that issue, as had been published for months prior, there were “40,000” copies of In This Week available at “more than 1,300 locations, primarily in the Salt Lake City metro area.” Next to that disclosure was the swooping V logo that indicates the numbers were certified by Verified Audit Circulation.

Beginning with the Oct. 7 issue, however, those numbers and Verified logo had disappeared—which happened to be immediately after City Weekly asked for comment for a story about inaccurate numbers and the use of an expired audit.

The problem, at the time, was that almost nothing about the disclosure was accurate. First and foremost, In This Week had not been a member of Verified Audits since early 2010, at the latest. Thus, they should not have been publishing audit numbers from Verified or using its logo in print, Jennifer Armor, Verified’s audit manager, said.

But even if the newspaper had still been a member of Verified, the numbers did not come close to matching the actual audit results.

According to the last Verified audit of In This Week, done on Sept. 24, 2009, the actual average weekly distribution of the newspaper is 29,704 copies. The press run on that specific day was 31,701 copies, while the average press run for the year prior to that date was 34,560.

And those are just numbers for the paper actually printed and put on racks, not how many people are taking the paper. Based on that same audit, the circulation is actually 21,566, with 8,829 copies never taken from the racks. In other words, more than 37 percent of the printed papers are returned every week.

Kelly Roberts, senior vice president of circulation for MediaOne, said at the time that the Verified membership was ended 10 to 12 months ago because MediaOne is planning on utilizing a new product from the Audit Bureau of Circulations called “consolidated media reports.” That way, its approximately half-dozen niche publications will have numbers from the same bureau and, more importantly, will allow MediaOne to tout its entire footprint.

ABC audits almost all of the medium- and large-size daily newspapers in the country, including The Salt Lake Tribune and its MediaOne business partner the Deseret News.

“[In This Week] will definitely be audited,” Roberts says. “We are making a lot of different business decisions. We have a lot of products already audited by ABC ... it’s a more thorough audit than Verified.”

When asked about the continued use of Verified’s logo and number by In This Week, however, Roberts refused to respond, saying he needed to check the newspaper. He even went so far as to refuse to spell his name at the end of the brief phone interview, insisting that he would check the numbers “and get back” to City Weekly. That has never happened.

After removing the inaccurate circulation numbers and Verified’s logo, In This Week now simply discloses that it’s published every Thursday by MediaOne of Utah. But what happens when they are audited by ABC may be even more confusing for advertisers and readers trying to get an accurate picture of readership. Should MediaOne switch over to the new consolidated media reports, the numbers could include everything from people physically reading a publication to its number of Website visitors, Twitter followers or Facebook fans.

[Editor's note: By way of disclosure, City Weekly’s most recent audit, also certified by Verified on June 24, 2010, showed certified circulation for City Weekly at 55,452, with 5,642 papers returned, about 8 percent “returns” out of a distribution of 60,000 to 1,800 locations.]

 
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