NAA/AAM Circulation Subcommittee's Guide to Verified Circulation
- Defining Verified Circulation
- Types and Options
- For the Audit
- Case Studies
- Do's and Don'ts
- Industry Q&A
- Resources and Contacts
Verified Circulation – Expanding Your Brand
Linnie Pride, NAA/AAM Circulation Subcommittee Communications Team
As our industry adapts to a changing environment that is filled with exciting opportunities to reach new audiences via new platforms, AAM has created innovative measuring and reporting guidelines for media companies to quantify and showcase their audience metrics. The introduction and use of these guidelines comes with a learning curve. The information in this guide will help you flatten out that learning curve and begin implementing effective verified circulation programs.
This guide provides three reference points: a “nuts and bolts” explanation of reporting guidelines, case studies that show how newspapers took the new guidelines from concept to execution, and an additional resources section that includes the buyer perspective as well as other places to get more information.
Rules and Requirements Explained
Verified circulation is a relatively new category of circulation. It contains a mixture of subcategories that includes some that were once counted as other paid circulation but are now counted as verified (NIE, university copies and employee copies, for instance) and some that are new to our reporting arena (verified branded editions and targeted/requested home delivery, for example).
Because this category of circulation is not tied to payment records in our systems (the gold standard for audit trails in our industry) the different subcategories are subject to varying degrees of audit control. Some of them require substantial recordkeeping procedures and controls. It’s extremely important to understand what you need to do to prepare for implementation of these programs so the numbers you report on your Publisher’s Statements will stand up to audit scrutiny.
One of the more popular new uses of this category is for delivery and reporting of such products as “Sunday Select” programs and other branded editions that are not paid products. These provide expanded reach for insert advertisers and some ROP advertisers. They are subject to strict requirements, so understanding the guidelines is crucial for newspapers.
If you have not done the appropriate setup and established proper controls, you could be faced with an AAM adjustment to your publisher’s statement figures. The goal of this guide is to help you avoid those problems and properly count and report your verified circulation. We also suggest reviewing all verified programs with your AAM publisher relations manager in advance of launch.
In the case study portion of this guide you will learn how the Austin American-Statesman is using several new options: branded editions, a Sunday-Select type product, and a commercial sampling program. They make extensive use of community newspapers to enhance their brand.
Over at The Dallas Morning News, a Spanish-language publication in their mix of verified circulation helps reach a key demographic while maintaining their brand.
And at the Lincoln Journal Star (where the University of Nebraska and Wesleyan University are located), a university program provides an important bridge for students to become more familiar with the newspaper.
Finally, The Tampa Bay Times shares its story of converting from print to digital NIE. As teachers and students acquire more technology in the classroom, digital provides a means of developing the newspaper habit without the cost of newsprint and in a way that educators and students will appreciate as forward thinking on the part of the newspaper.
On behalf of Jim Lamm, Steve Wagenlander, and Jeff Hartley, I want to thank you for taking the time to read this guide. This is the final chapter in our subcommittee’s trilogy of guides to the new AAM guidelines; we hope you have found them to be helpful.
If you have questions about anything contained in this guide, feel free to contact the sources listed in this guide.
Linnie Pride is senior vice president of audience development for Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc. (CNHI), located in Montgomery, Ala. He can be reached at 334-293-5812.
Updated July 23, 2013
Defining Verified Circulation
Understanding verified circulation begins with the rules; and because verified is such a large, encompassing category, there is an entire article in the rule book dedicated just to it—Article 3 - Verified Circulation. Article 3 contains the following rules, all governing verified circulation:
- C 3.1 Employee, Correspondent and Agent Copies
- C 3.2 Educational Copies
- C 3.3 Other Verified Distribution
- C 3.4 Business/Traveler Circulation
- C 3.5 Gift Subscriptions
- C 3.6 Gift Subscriptions Not Recognized as Paid Circulation
These are the core rules defining verified circulation but many other rules may also come into play when you are designing your programs. As always, we recommend reviewing all programs with your publisher relations manager before launch.
Let’s begin dissecting verified circulation by first defining it.
Tip: To learn more about verified circulation and how it impacts digital and branded editions, check out the other guides in this series: NAA/AAM Circulation Subcommittee’s Guide to Digital Editions and NAA/AAM Circulation Subcommittee’s Guide to Branded Editions
In the simplest terms, verified circulation are any copies that are either not paid or are paid for by someone other than the final consumer. Verified circulation exists for all editions of the newspaper, including print, digital replica and nonreplica, and branded.
Even though verified is a nonpaid category of circulation, you can still collect monies for your verified copies. However, these financial transactions will not change how AAM qualifies and classifies the circulation. For example, a third-party sponsor may wish to partner with your newspaper to promote their business, but since the consumer doesn’t pay for the newspaper the copies are still classified as verified. You may also wish to charge a third-party sponsor for additional services related to the promotion, such as ROP advertising, in-store signs, and wraps. The amount of money charged for these services is entirely at your discretion and is not governed by AAM.
Types and Options
Verified circulation was created when AAM revised the definition of paid circulation to be more straightforward and only include those copies that were purchased by the consumer or other distribution channel. Taking its cue from the magazine industry, newspapers landed on the label “verified” to represent circulation previously classified as “other paid,” including NIE, third party and employee copies.
Verified circulation is an expansive label encompassing many subcategories of circulation. Let’s review them and their unique requirements now:
- Home-delivery requested
- Home-delivery targeted
- Educational copies
- University copies
- Employee copies
- Retail/business copies
Tip: Verified home-delivery requested and targeted may not include copies generated from a paid subscription offer but for which payment was never received or copies claimed as paid circulation on the Publisher’s Statement but disqualified during audit.
Verified home-delivery requested circulation are nonpaid subscriptions requested by individuals for delivery to their residences for at least 12 weeks.
Home-delivery requested has the following qualification requirements:
- The copy must be delivered to a residence for personal use by the recipients.
- The recipient must make a request to initiate the subscription and that request must specify the term and frequency of delivery.
- Every issue must offer the recipient the opportunity to opt out of delivery.
- The subscription term must be at least 12 consecutive weeks. If the subscription is cancelled before the 12-week term, the copies may be classified as verified home-delivery targeted.
- For subscriptions longer than one year, you must make an annual effort to contact the recipient and give them the opportunity to opt out. You will need to report the age of your subscriptions in the explanatory paragraph.
- There is a limit of one verified subscription per household.
- Digital service is permitted.
Tip: Opt out notices should be delivered via a post-it, postcard, letter topped on the paper, wrap or similar medium. Email is not acceptable notification for print editions.
Verified home-delivery targeted circulation are subscriptions or single copies delivered to individual residences. These residences are targeted by the newspaper, or requested by a third party or recipient for less than 12 weeks.
Home-delivery targeted circulation has the following qualification requirements:
- The copy must be delivered to individual residences.
- If delivery occurs for more than one day, all recipients must receive a delivery notice on the first date of service that states the term and frequency of delivery and offers an opportunity to opt out.
- If the recipient requests the subscription, delivery notice is not required. Remember, if the subscription term is for at least 12 consecutive weeks it may qualify for verified home-delivery requested.
- There is a limit of one verified subscription per household.
- Digital service is not permitted.
- A department store is opening in the area and wants to distribute newspapers to residential homes in the ZIP codes surrounding that area. The delivery is for one day and contains a wrap promoting all the great sales for the grand opening.
- A restaurant wants to promote their business in specific ZIP codes by distributing newspapers to residential homes in specific towns. The program is for Sunday-only delivery for six weeks. The retailer also wants signs to place in their store and a large ROP ad each of those weeks that will contain a 20 percent off coupon to their business.
- The newspaper wants to distribute a two-week, seven-day sample to non-subscribing residents on Green St., Purple Ave., Blue Ct., and Red Lane, as these are places they want to grow penetration.
Verified educational circulation are copies requested by and distributed to accredited classroom settings for use by instructors as part of the curriculum.
Educational copies have the following qualification requirements:
- Requests and delivery must be to a school or educational facility with an accredited classroom for grades kindergarten and above.
- The newspapers must be used by students as part of their classroom curriculum.
- The number of verified educational copies cannot exceed the number of students in the classroom, per day. The total number of copies per school, per day, cannot exceed the number of students enrolled.
- Affidavits must be collected at least annually and confirm the following:
- Name and address of school
- Statement confirming the school ordered, received and used the newspapers in the classroom as part of the curriculum
- The quantity of copies and number of students in the classroom
- Dates the copies were received
- Names of teachers receiving the copies
- Printed name, title and phone number of person signing the affidavit
- Signature and date
- Digital service is permitted.
Tip: Affidavits may be collected electronically. In lieu of a signature, the form should include a statement confirming the information is true and accurate.
Affidavits are required for 100 percent of classrooms. Programs without affidavits will be classified as unpaid on AAM reports.
View examples of acceptable affidavits on AAM’s website.
- A second grade teacher requests 20 copies every Monday to use for a current event program in her class. She has 19 students plus needs one copy for herself.
- A ninth grade teacher requests 23 licenses to access the digital edition Monday through Friday for use in his class. He has 22 students plus needs one copy for himself.
- A college professor requests 25 copies every Wednesday during the month of March to assist in teaching students of a journalism class. She has 24 students plus needs one copy for herself.
Tip: You may collect payment for educational and university copies from the schools or other third-party sponsors, but the copies will still classify as verified on AAM statements because they were not purchased by the recipient.
Verified university circulation are copies requested by colleges or universities for distribution to registered students in a campus setting via limited-access areas.
University copies have the following qualification requirements:
- The college or university must request the copies.
- Distribution must occur in an area typically restricted only to students such as dormitories, cafeterias, classrooms or via vending machines using student IDs.
- The number of university copies cannot exceed the number of students enrolled at the university.
- Only the copies picked up or accessed by students qualify.
- Digital service is permitted.
- AAM University has 2,000 registered college students and requests 2,000 print copies be made available in restricted areas on campus each day. Each day the newspaper records the number of copies leftover at each drop location on campus. The total number of copies eligible for verified university copies each day is 2,000 less the number of leftovers.
Verified employee circulation are copies served to current or retired newspaper employees, contractors, or correspondents as a benefit.
Employee copies have the following qualification requirements:
- Recipients must be:
- Full or part-time employees on the regular payroll during the reporting period.
- Employees of subsidiaries on the regular payroll actively engaged in the production or distribution of the newspaper.
- Independent contractors currently involved in delivering the newspaper.
- Correspondents contributing at least one article per month.
- Newspapers may only claim one copy—print or digital—per day, per recipient.
- Copies must be easily accessible to employees.
- Digital service is permitted.
Tip: Delivery requests made by businesses or retailers must include the following information: List of distribution locations, days of delivery, quantity of newspapers for each day of delivery, business name and address, printed name, title and contact information of requestor, signature and date of requestor.
Verified retail/business circulation are copies requested by businesses for reoccurring distribution to its patrons.
Retail/business copies have the following qualification requirements:
- The business or organization must request the newspaper for distribution to its patrons.
- The distribution must be reoccurring.
- Digital service is only permitted for libraries.
- A café requests 10 copies every Monday through Friday for use by its patrons.
- A doctor’s office orders three copies per day for its waiting room.
- A nursing home, hospital, auto dealership and tax office each request 20 copies per day for their common areas, patients or preferred clients.
Tip: Paid and verified circulation for all print, digital and branded editions are added together to arrive at total average circulation.
Verified circulation was created to clearly delineate between paid and nonpaid circulation, and it is explained in great detail on AAM reports with a break down for the AAM-member newspaper and any branded or digital editions. Let’s look at the publisher’s statement and Newspaper Snapshot report to review how verified circulation is presented.
Publisher’s Statements and Audit Reports
Verified circulation appears for the first time on AAM statements in paragraph 1A. This paragraph details the circulation for the print edition of the AAM-member newspaper.
Paragraphs 1B and 1C provide detail on paid and verified circulation for the digital replica and nonreplica editions of the AAM-member newspaper.
Paragraph 1D and subsequent paragraphs highlight paid and verified circulation for any branded editions.
Verified circulation does not have a separate column in the Newspaper Snapshot report but it is included in the numbers for total average circulation excluding branded editions, branded editions, and total average circulation. Greater detail on verified circulation is provided in the Snapshot Analyzer tool.
For the Audit
For all verified circulation categories, the AAM auditor will look for three main items: confirmation of request, distribution location and delivery. There may be specific documentation or files needed for each category of verified circulation, so let’s examine those now.
- Home-delivery requested
- Records confirming the recipient’s request, delivery and opt-out notices on every issue, plus the annual opt-out notice for subscriptions more than a year.
- Home-delivery targeted
- Records confirming the recipient received an opt-out notice and delivery.
- Educational copies
- Affidavits for 100 percent of the classrooms.
- University copies
- Records confirming the university requested the copies and also confirming delivery and leftovers for each pick-up location.
- Employee copies
- Records confirming distribution and active status of the employee, retiree, contractor or correspondent.
- Retail/business copies
- Records confirming the business’ request and delivery.
That completes the rules section of the guide. Next, we’ll hear the stories of how newspapers across the country designed their verified strategies.
The Austin American-Statesman’s Diverse Verified Strategy
With a portfolio that includes branded editions, a Sunday-Select product and a commercial sampling program, the Austin American-Statesman reaches target audiences through various categories of verified circulation. Debra Joiner, product manager, shared the details of each category and how they prepared for their audit under AAM’s verified circulation rules.
Newspapers can reach readers beyond their core paid circulation audience with verified circulation, and the Statesman has evolved and varied some of its programs to comply with the recent verified circulation rules. Earlier this year, two of its standalone community newspapers—the Cedar Park Citizen and Leander Ledger—combined to make one branded edition that is delivered every Wednesday with the Statesman. Similarly, the Pflugerville Pflag recently transitioned from a standalone community newspaper to a branded edition delivered to certain ZIP codes on Wednesday with the Statesman.
“We look at it as adding value for our current subscribers by including the publications with the Statesman and continuing to have the volume for our advertisers,” Joiner said. “We’re also doing a targeted address-specific product saturation to select ZIP codes in Cedar Park, Leander and Pflugerville. We choose the most desirable ZIP codes to increase our overall penetration and volume of preprints in the areas most important to our advertisers.”
Because this change only happened in the first quarter of this year, the branded editions have not yet been through an audit. For now, these publications will be classified as targeted verified circulation.
One product that has been through an audit is Stat!, the Statesman’s Sunday Select product that delivers coupons and inserts to more than 30,000 households every week.
“We’ve noticed with single-copy sales and Sunday subscriptions that coupons are a big draw. That’s one of the ways we’re able to promote it. It has some news, some comics and additional advertising, and customers like it.”
The verified circulation rules also changed the Statesman’s commercial sampling program, some of which is now classified as retail/business circulation. The Statesman distributes copies to 782 businesses, and twice every year, forms are sent to the businesses to verify the copies were requested and received. The Statesman recently went through the first audit of this circulation.
The Audit Prep
The Statesman had to adapt some of its processes to comply with the verified circulation rules, such as maintaining opt-in requests for the product. When Stat! was first distributed, staff tried several tactics to secure reader requests for the product.
“We tried going door to door. We tried telemarketing. We tried putting ads in the product. We’ve done social media—Facebook, Twitter—those types of promotions,” Joiner said. “What we found most effective is actually calling people to tell them about the product and opting in that way. That helped our audit because we were able to pull those recorded phone calls instead of keeping up with paper forms. Having fresh data for AAM to verify also helped.”
With the success of getting readers to opt in over the phone and organizing those recordings for the audit, Joiner hopes to qualify all of this circulation as requested for the next audit. The Statesman has already opted in 18,671 readers for the Stat! publication.
Joiner also recommends weekly circulation tracking. A staff member is dedicated to tracking requests every week to record how the requests affect total penetration by ZIP code.
“Tracking weekly is really important. Especially with paper opt-ins, we call and verify a certain percentage on our own so we don’t wait until the audit to find if there was a problem. Tracking is time consuming, but it’s worth it.”
The Statesman also adapted to verifying requests for retail/business circulation. When the staff first asked businesses to verify their requests and delivery, they mailed forms, called, faxed—even visited a few businesses in person. The second time around, the process was much easier. Joiner shared several must haves for retail/business circulation: a good tracking system, a simple form, correct contacts at the business and their preferred method of contact.
“Commercial sampling was a huge change. We’ve been doing the program for years, but verifying them was new. That first time, I think you just have to go the extra mile. You also have to warn that they won’t get the papers if they don’t verify. Once you explain it, it’s easier going forward.”
With the AAM rule changes for verified circulation, Joiner stressed how important it is to have a solid tracking system and staff to prepare for the audit. She recapped how the rules for verified circulation have changed their strategies:
“We’re just starting to make the changes for the community newspaper branded editions. Deciding to go with the opt ins for Stat! was something our advertisers really wanted. Our NIE program requires teachers to opt in and verify receiving the papers, but we really haven’t changed how we handle the paperwork. Setting up the systems for tracking the opt-in forms, all of that was new. But it has gone really well. Definitely not as painful as we thought it was going to be.”
Over the past few years, The Dallas Morning News has created two publications to reach key demographics. Al Dia is a free Spanish-language newspaper established in 2003 to target the growing Hispanic market in North Texas. Al Dia is mainly delivered to targeted households on Wednesday and Sunday. Briefing, which began in 2008, was developed as an alternative to The Dallas Morning News for busy moms and time-starved adults. Briefing delivers editorial and advertising content to specified households Wednesday through Friday and Sunday. Chip Danneker, senior director of circulation operations, explains how verified circulation helps The Dallas Morning News reach a select audience.
Al Dia and Briefing deliver a package of news and advertising co-branded with The Dallas Morning News to a larger print audience.
“We saw Al Dia as a real opportunity to reach the Hispanic market here. Briefing was designed to target females and younger readers who were time-starved—consumers who weren’t necessarily reading the traditional newspaper. We saw an opportunity to key in on those demographics to offer consumers content and help advertisers reach those consumers,” Danneker said.
Both publications are now verified branded editions for AAM purposes. Branded editions as part of total circulation on updated AAM reports help represent the newspaper’s total reach, Danneker explained.
“As far as print, digital and branded, it’s all out there for everyone to see. I think it’s a win-win for the publishers and the advertisers. We are able to represent true circulation and reach of all of our products. And advertisers can see the breakouts. The rule changes were good.”
In addition to the traditional AAM reports, the Consolidated Media Report combines The Dallas Morning News’ print edition, digital replica and branded editions for a total combined average circulation. The CMR also provides audience and web traffic data.
“The whole audience reach that’s reflected on the CMR is an advantage from our perspective. We see the CMR and the more specific breakouts on publisher’s statements as positives because it’s more transparent for everyone to understand exactly what’s happening.”
The Audit Prep
Verified targeted circulation has separate audit requirements than verified requested circulation. While Danneker said a large portion of the circulation for Al Dia and Briefing is requested, the verified branded editions are reported as targeted circulation.
“Both Al Dia and Briefing are evolving toward more and more requested delivery. We’re not reporting their circulation under requested because we’re not completely there yet. But we are looking at what it would take to have 100 percent requested for Al Dia and Briefing.”
No matter which category of circulation, Danneker said the same attention to accuracy is needed for the audit. Distribution for Al Dia and Briefing is handled similarly to The Dallas Morning News. The same carrier force delivers all three newspapers, and branded editions are integrated into existing routes.
“It’s just another part of what we do as far as distributing other papers along with The Dallas Morning News. Our carriers are used to distributing multiple publications at the same time.”
Danneker also noted two key areas for identifying and reducing issues before the AAM audit. The first is the nightly process of preparing for deliveries. To ensure proper zoning, distribution centers are set up to ensure newspapers are accurately put together. Carriers also have electronic delivery lists of the households that are supposed to get publications on certain days.
“Our processes really support the ability for the delivery folks to get it right. Obviously you have some human intervention, but that gives us a great chance of success.”
The second is verifying delivery independently throughout the year. A firm audits approximately 15 ZIP codes every week to verify that the newspapers are delivered to the right recipients. The results are then shared with carriers.
“We put a lot of effort into trying to make sure we don’t have any issues before the AAM audit.”
After a year of including Al Dia and Briefing as verified branded editions, these publications continue to be important vehicles to reach The Dallas Morning News’ audience.
“These are both first and foremost broadsheet newspapers published to attract a loyal audience of readers. These aren't wraps. We attract the audience first, and we know the advertising will follow.”
Many newspapers distribute copies to university students across the country, and these copies may qualify as verified circulation. Staci Lunders, sales and marketing manager, describes how the Lincoln Journal Star uses verified university copies to reach students at two local Nebraska universities.
The Lincoln Journal Star partnered with USA Today to start a university distribution program at the University of Nebraska Lincoln in 2001. The program was designed to provide students access to newspapers as part of their student fees. Today, the Journal Star distributes newspapers on the campuses of the University of Nebraska Lincoln and Wesleyan University.
“Traditionally, we’ve always had a healthy NIE program in our market and saw this as a good continuation,” Lunders said.
The Journal Star initially distributed copies Monday through Friday. Today, the university program accounts for approximately 750 copies daily, and 90 copies on Sunday. And university students are a key demographic for the Journal Star to reach. According to a 2011 study by Thoroughbred Research, the Journal Star captures 79 percent of the millennials ages 18 to 29 in its market through print and online. Additionally, 59 percent said they use the print product.
“For the millennial group that supposedly doesn’t use the newspaper, we have a strong hold in our market. The units of revenue have definitely added to the bottom line as well,” Lunders said.
The university program also helps further the readership habits started with students in the NIE program, Lunders said.
“Whether we’re going to deliver our news in print, online, or whatever the future unknown medium is, I think it’s important to build that relationship—that habit—early to generate future readership and informed students.”
The Audit Prep
“Although the copies show up in a different category on the Publisher’s Statement, they still mean readership as well as revenue to the paper. So we continue to provide them in the same manner that we have provided them.”
AAM rules for university circulation require copies to only be provided for individual pickup by registered students in areas that only students can access, such as residence halls and cafeterias. For the audit, publishers must track the number of copies distributed, picked up and remaining at the end of the day.
The Journal Star’s university copies, for example, are distributed in card-reader racks that are opened with a student ID card and in open racks in residence halls. Staff also checks on the copies regularly.
“We make several trips around the campuses. We have recovery runs to make sure papers are evenly distributed where they need to be as well as control any mess. From what I can recall, mess was the biggest problem we encountered with the print copies. That doesn’t seem to be an issue anymore. It’s just a matter of someone checking on them.”
And having these copies audited helps communicate with advertisers.
“We’re able to point out where those copies are and specifically insert into them if someone requests the issue. AAM audits still play a role with advertisers. In any instance that we want to talk about the circulation, it is helpful to have them audited.”
While the Newspapers in Education program has been part of U.S. classrooms for decades, newspapers today work with their local schools to provide educational materials in print, online and on mobile devices. Jodi Pushkin, newspaper in education manager, explained how the Tampa Bay Times is transitioning its NIE program from print to digital, and the effects of AAM’s verified rules.
Just as teachers have moved from teaching with transparencies to using smart boards, newspapers have transitioned from print products to online and mobile technologies. And the Tampa Bay Times is mirroring that evolution with its NIE program.
“The electronic edition is a natural fit for that technology in the classroom,” Pushkin said. “We encourage teachers to use the electronic edition to increase students’ interest and provide something to use at home in conjunction with their regular lessons.”
The Tampa Bay Times’ (formerly the St. Petersburg Times) NIE program began in the 1970s to provide print newspapers and original content to enhance classroom lesson plans. Today, the program provides a combination of digital editions, social media, lesson plans, workshops and print editions to area students and teachers.
Pushkin cited many reasons for the push for more digital NIE content. Students are encouraged to use newspapers—rather than secondary websites—as primary sources. The state of Florida is pushing for more technology in the classroom. And every year, there is an increase in technology available to teachers. As a result, the Times’ NIE content is now available online as well as on e-book and Android and Apple mobile devices.
“We have a few schools that are going to get their textbooks and electronic editions on the Kindle. We’re also starting to see a surge in the use of tablets. School districts are starting to look at that as a new way of teaching the curriculum,” Pushkin said.
“One reason we wanted to do social media is for fundraising. The other is to solidify some of those partnerships in the community. We share information from the education foundations, school districts and the Florida Department of Education, as well as our news and supplement partners.”
The Audit Prep
“The biggest difference that we’ve seen in what we need to show for audit purposes is regarding our revenue. As far as the rest of it, the process is still the same. Our philosophy has always been that we want the teachers to use what we’re giving them. We haven’t changed that philosophy. We are looking to put all of our curriculum online, but that doesn’t affect the audit.”
To qualify as verified circulation, teachers still have to request the copies and sign an affidavit to confirm that they used the copies in the classroom. While AAM no longer verifies any financial transactions relating to verified circulation, sponsors and fundraising continue to play a large role for the Times’ NIE program.
“We let our sponsors know how many teachers and students we reach. A teacher can have 150 students and only get five online licenses, so we’re not really focused on the verified number. We’re focused on how many teachers and students we actually reach—our readership.”
There are a few lessons the Times has learned over the years in its print to digital NIE transition. Workshops work well to demonstrate the digital content features and provide immediate teacher feedback. The NIE staff communicates often with school districts to understand their technology capabilities. And digital editions offer more student interaction with newspaper content.
Pushkin added: “Sometimes students don’t want to read because they don’t feel engaged in the material. Newspapers are a great tool to understand real-life scenarios, see what’s going on in their neighborhood, and teach them how to be good citizens. And whether they’re picking up the newspaper to just read the sports scores, or the comics, or the world news section, it’s important to get in the habit of reading something every day.”
Do's and Don'ts
Tips for Developing Your Verified Programs
We’ve consolidated the most useful information from the previous sections into an easy-to-reference dos and don’ts list.
- Have a publisher relations manager review your verified programs. Reviews are free and confidential.
- Collect payment for your verified copies but don’t try to claim the circulation as paid.
- Maintain audit records confirming the original delivery request, the distribution location and the actual delivery.
- Include verified circulation for your other editions such as digital and branded.
- Discuss your verified circulation programs with advertisers and explain your strategy.
- Consider tracking your circulation weekly to determine how requests are impacting ZIP code penetration. This also helps eliminate audit problems.
- Try to claim as verified circulation copies that were originally generated from a paid subscription but for which you never received payment as verified circulation.
- Try to claim as verified circulation copies that were originally claimed as paid on your publisher’s statement but disqualified during the audit.
- Skimp on your tracking program. Most newspapers report that regular tracking and contact with consumers lead to a more successful audit.
- Deliver more than one copy to a household. Verified home-delivery requested and verified home-delivery targeted both limit verified subscriptions to one household, regardless of the number of requests.
- Use an email for opt out notices. Post-its, postcards and wraps are all acceptable ways to notify recipients of delivery and give them the opportunity to opt out. Email is not an acceptable method for any print editions.
In our next section, Alison Albrecht of Stage Stores shares her thoughts on the recent rule changes and the rise of the Consolidated Media Report.
Alison Albrecht, Stage Stores
Alison Albrecht, media director at Stage Stores Inc., brings the advertiser perspective to AAM’s Newspaper Buyers’ Advisory Committee and the Consolidated Media Report task force. She talked with us about how the recent AAM rule changes affected their processes and how progress with the CMR might impact buyers in the future.
Linnie Pride: Stage Stores positions itself as the retailer for small towns, which are the same targets for many newspapers. How do newspapers help you reach your target audiences?
Alison Albrecht: Newspapers are part of the fabric of small-town America. Most of our locations have a great weekly, if not daily, newspaper. Newspapers are a great fit for Stage Stores because the communities look to them as a source for local news and advertising.
LP: This series of NAA/AAM guides explained the rules and reports behind branded editions, digital editions and verified circulation. How have the changes affected your processes?
AA: The changes have helped because we don’t have to ask newspapers as many questions, such as what part is going to university. It’s much clearer for us to look at the circulation that we’re trying to target.
LP: How does the updated AAM report format help ensure accountability?
AA: It’s consistency. Having multiple buyers on staff, the report allows everybody to view the data in a similar way. Before, one team member might ask the newspaper about the various levels of third-party, while another didn’t. It takes out any speculation.
LP: Let’s talk about some of the categories AAM reports now address—digital editions first. What are the pros and cons to newspapers’ growth on websites and apps?
AA: I think it’s fantastic from a news perspective because readers are given more go-to sources for news. And hopefully that will help maintain the print edition, which is still vital. But as a preprint advertiser, our sales and promotions are typically one or few-day events. The complexity of using digital editions in that format isn’t great. But the revenue will evolve. Just as preprints evolved in the late 90s, I think the same thing will happen with news and advertising revenue with apps and websites.
LP: Several newspapers now include branded editions, while many of these editions were previously unaudited. Does the fact that they’re audited change your view?
AA: Yes, it makes them that much more viable. We view a Sunday Select product similarly to a weekly newspaper. It’s audited. Readers know why the product is coming to their doorsteps, and they can say whether they want it. That’s really what we wanted, whether it’s a weekly community newspaper or a Sunday edition that’s nonpaid but welcome in the household.
LP: Previously, the “paid” category included “other” paid copies such as sponsored sales and NIE. Why do buyers support the verified category?
AA: It’s a lot clearer to understand the different categories, mastheads and niche products that are out there. It buckets where our campaign can be constructed and definitely helps the marketing arm of it.
LP: As a member of the newspaper CMR task force, what are the top issues for the group?
AA: There are a lot of data and ways to make a publication seen. The lenses used to look at the data need to be universal. AAM is the gold standard for auditing, and we want to ensure the sources we audit against and the pieces we audit are uniform. Publishers can vary what they consider their shining stars, but media buyers have to understand what publishers are portraying. If your app is the best part of your business, we want to make sure the app is measured and audited against a very uniform lens that another newspaper’s app could be measured against.
LP: How would you like to see the CMR evolve?
AA: The newspapers doing CMRs now are building the foundation for what’s to come. The biggest challenge we all have is constructing an audit and a report that will be foundational and allow for new media to fit. If tablets are here today and gone tomorrow, will the audit and report allow for the next big thing? We want to make sure there’s a foundation we all can understand and audit.
LP: What role can a report like the CMR play for media buyers?
AA: The CMR allows AAM to be more than just a newspaper auditing company. The CMR will hopefully mirror the direction most of our media teams are headed—a multimedia buying team. We not only buy print; we buy digital. We not only buy in geographies of a newspaper; we buy in geographies of demographics. We look at reach, not just individual products. The CMR can become more universal across all future media buying than just print newspaper buying.
LP: What advice do you have for newspapers as they refine their audience strategies?
AA: Understand your best nonprint product and how it impacts an advertiser. So when media buyers look at a CMR, they understand the landscape of your marketplace beyond one vehicle. If your app is your best vehicle in addition to print, make sure those two marry together to explain the reach you provide advertisers through both platforms.
LP: Why is it important for all newspapers and their audience extensions to be audited?
AA: From a media buyer perspective, we’re all in this to quantify and to understand the impressions—the eyeballs—in all facets of your media and what our media buy is going to get us. Readers are no longer consuming one vehicle at one time. They’re consuming multiple vehicles, given the time of day, or day of week. Demonstrate that your audience is no longer in one silo. The more we are aware of where customers are reading news, the better off you will be in the eyes of the media buyer.
Resources and Contacts
The following is a list of links and contact information if you would like to find out more about the verified programs and tips included in this guide.
AAM and NAA Resources
- AAM Bylaws & Rules
- Newspaper Support Center
- Audit Checklist
- Publisher Relations Manager Contacts
- NAA Topics & Tools – Audience & Circulation
- NAA Business Development Contacts
Sources of Examples Used in This Guide
Chip Danneker, senior director of circulation operations, The Dallas Morning News
Debra Joiner, product manager, Austin American-Statesman
Staci Lunders, sales and marketing manager, Lincoln Journal Star
Jodi Pushkin, newspapers in education manager, Tampa Bay Times
NAA/AAM Circulation Subcommittee Member Roster
Dan Schaub, SVP/Audience Development & Membership Services, The Sacramento Bee
Aaron Armand, Circulation Systems Manager, The Advocate, Capital City Press
James Boyd, Jr., Circulation Director, The Knoxville News Sentinel
Al Cupo, Vice President, Operations, Local Media Association
Jeffrey DeLoach, Publisher, San Angelo Standard Times
James Galetano, Vice President/Circulation, Daily Herald
Antony George, Senior Manager, Circulation, Chicago Tribune
Sharon Gibson, Senior Director/Sales & Retention, Detroit Media Partnership
* Jeffrey Hartley, VP of Circulation Morris Publishing Group/Director of Circulation, The Augusta Chronicle
Steve Hesse, SVP/Circulation, MediaNews
Helen S. Hoffman, Director/Circulation Sales, Gannett Newspaper Division
* James Lamm, Vice President/Circulation, The Charlotte Observer
Hugh McGarry, SVP, Sales & Marketing, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Courtney Price VP, Audience Development, Sun-Times News Group
* Linnie Pride, SVP, Circulation, Community Newspaper Holdings
Mark Quan, Circulation Director, The Virginian-Pilot
Valecia Quinn, Single Copy Director, The Cincinnati Enquirer
Joseph F. Salomone, Deputy Director AAM Compliance, Wall Street Journal
* Steve Wagenlander, Circulation Director, The Post and Courier
John Murray, Vice President of Audience Development, Newspaper Association of America
NAA Staff Liaison
Ken Shultz, SVP of Audit Services, Alliance for Audited Media
AAM Staff Liaison
* Member of NAA/AAM Circulation Subcommittee Communications Team
To the Future We Go
Linnie Pride, NAA/AAM Circulation Subcommittee Communications Team
In this guide we showed you how to use the newest categories of circulation reporting to expand and enhance your company’s brand and to provide new measurements of audience metrics. As we have emphasized in our previous two guides, it’s important for us to embrace the new reporting opportunities that are being presented so that we can tell the whole story of how we reach our audiences. It’s critical that we use every opportunity to tell our advertisers who we can reach with their message, including how we reach them and how often.
The tools to grow your audience and your brand are there. Learn to use them, and then build the circulation audience that will support your brand and your advertising revenue. Many of you have already moved the needle significantly with these new programs.
Is some of this challenging to comprehend and implement? Yes, but AAM’s staff members stand ready to guide and support you as you push forward. This isn’t the time to be timid; it’s the time to be bold with your programs.
Remember that the NAA/AAM Circulation Subcommittee represents you. These guides grew out of an effort by newspapers for newspapers to truly understand the rule changes and their impact. So if you have something you would like addressed by the committee, share it. If you have any questions about the content of the three guides, reach out to your AAAM publisher relations manager or any member of the NAA/AAM circulation subcommittee communications team.
To the future we go. We are all on this journey together; let’s continue to explore, experiment and grow.
Contact Linnie via e-mail.
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