Alarm bells ring as Daily Telegraph pulls out of ABC audits
The Telegraph Media Group (TMG), publisher of the Daily Telegraph, has announced it has pulled out of ABC circulation audits.
"The Audit Bureau of Circulations results published, today, January 16th, are the final set of ABC results Telegraph Media Group will take part in," the company said.
"The ABC metric is not the key metric behind our subscription strategy and not how we measure our success."
TMG, which also publishes The Sunday Telegraph, said it will remain "transparent" with its core subscriber numbers (across all channels) and it will communicate these numbers each month, sharing both volumes and average revenue per subscription.
The new figures will be "independently assured" by PWC, with the next audit to take place in March.
The news comes after the marketing body representing newsbrands, Newsworks, had questioned the "narrative of decline" ABC audits tended to highlight in a multi-platform, digital market, and had appeared keen to shift the industry towards using PAMCo's multi-platform readership figures as a better measure.
Currently, the census-based ABC audits print and online circulation figures and is largely used for trading. Covering 1,200 titles, it also sets industry agreed standards and shows how published media reaches the market, in both print and online.
Meanwhile, PAMCo - which replaced the National Readership Survey in April 2018 - is audience-based and delivers the multi-channel readership of 128 news and magazine brands. It is used much more widely in the planning process at media agencies.
For various reasons no other media uses two different 'currencies', but published media requires the dual system to effectively audit, plan and trade against a set of agreed and trusted standards. Similar systems operate in other markets around the world.
However, with publishers under threat from declining print circulations and increased competition from the likes of Facebook and Google, there are concerns over which currency tells the best and most useful narrative about published media.
This lead to formal discussions in February last year about using both ABC and PAMCo in a manner that could better help the publishers who essentially fund both currencies.
Although the dual system is not understood to be threatened, senior agency bosses told Mediatel News at the time they were concerned that there was a lack of understanding about how the "highly valuable" currencies should be viewed as "complementary" while calling for increased awareness across the sector about the merits of using both.
Commenting on Thursday's news, Simon Redlich, chief executive, ABC, said: “This move by the Telegraph is clearly disappointing. We understand the Telegraph’s wish to promote their growing subscription numbers across print and digital, but believe that doing so via an industry-agreed ABC standard would be the best route.
"We see it as a straightforward development of current reporting and remain open to working with the Telegraph, as with all publishers, on developing metrics which support their strategies.”
Meanwhile, the IPA, which represents agencies, said it was "extremely concerned" the Telegraph is to pull out of ABC.
"ABC is an industry supported JIC and as such produces trusted, independent and transparent data which is essential for Newsbrands trading," said Paul Bainsfair, director general, IPA.
"We know our members strongly support the independent, agreed JIC standards of ABC and a separate audit from elsewhere, which may not be in the public domain, does not give them the same confidence needed to support advertising expenditure.
"We urge the Telegraph to reconsider their approach and work within ABC to achieve their strategic aims.”
On Thursday, TMG - which has put the Daily Telegraph up for sale - said it was focused on a "subscriber-first strategy" underpinned by long term investment in The Telegraph’s digital transformation.
"This is evidenced by the number of paying subscribers and registrants since we switched to a paywall format and registered-access model two years ago, whilst maintaining a very healthy ARPS (average revenue per subscription)."
TMG aims to reach 10 million registrants and 1 million subscribers to sign up to the Telegraph by 2023.
The latest ABC results reveal the Telegraph is the second best read paper in the quality market and was up 2.8% to a circulation of 317,800 in December 2019. However, like much of the market, it had declined -12.5% year-on-year.