AUDIT BUREAU OF CIRCULATIONS
The Audit Bureau of Circulations was established in Sydney in 1932 by the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) and the Australian Association of Advertising Agencies. Modelled on its US namesake (est. 1914), the bureau represents advertisers, advertising agencies and publishers. Its first members were drawn in almost equal number from publishers (21)—mostly of newspapers, which joined under their individual mastheads; advertisers (15); and advertising agencies (14). At the peak of its membership, in 1970, these proportions had changed little: 373 publishers, 361 advertisers and 309 advertising agencies. From the 1970s, however, the outsourcing of advertising to advertising agencies, from big department stores, among others, brought dramatic change. From the 1980s, most agencies disappeared from the bureau’s membership—some no longer seeing any advantage in membership, perhaps because they no longer focused on print; some swallowed by other agencies; others displaced by the rise of agencies that specialised in buying print space or broadcasting time.
The bureau’s original function was to furnish advertisers and advertising agencies from Australia and the South Pacific—space-buyers— with reliable data on the number of copies of metropolitan and non-metropolitan newspapers and magazines that were sold—space-sellers. Later, its remit expanded to include newspapers published nationally, consumer magazines, magazines inserted into newspapers, agricultural publications, ethnic and Indigenous newspapers, and overseas newspapers. Since 1995, the bureau has also collected data on changes in cover prices.
Newspaper circulation figures, originally collated every six months, have been published quarterly since 1995. For newspapers published six days a week, the reporting of separate figures for weekday sales and weekend sales became mandatory in 2006. For metropolitan dailies, national dailies and regional dailies with circulations above 25,000, the reporting of separate figures for each day of the week became mandatory from early 2012. The figures show average sales per issue. The most recent figures are available online, with other data available on a subscription basis only.
While most metropolitan newspapers belonged to the bureau in the 1930s, the Daily Telegraph, Sydney Morning Herald and Labor Daily did not. In Sydney, the only metropolitan daily that had signed up was the Sun. The Herald, along with the Australian Financial Review, did not join until 1982; John Fairfax & Sons insisted that its audited figures ‘required no further evidence of accuracy’. The first figures for the Daily Mirror, launched in 1941, were not available through the bureau until 1946; for the Australian, launched in 1964, there were no figures audited by the bureau until 1990. Among weekly magazines, early membership was much patchier, though titles as diverse as the Australian Women’s Weekly, the Land and the Westralian Worker joined early. Provincial papers, with circulations in the hundreds, were also under-represented.
The basis on which circulation is assessed remains contentious. One of the early concerns had to do with whether the ‘quality’ of the buyers of a newspaper or magazine should be noted, not just the size of its sales.
Another concern relating to newspapers— especially afternoon newspapers—was that new editions did not necessarily generate a commensurate increase in the number of readers advertisers might reach. Moreover, there was no provision for differences in the reach of daily papers, and weeklies or bi-weeklies—publications that might be read for longer, or passed around to more people. And there was no measure of what ads were read.
There was also friction over whether the bureau’s audit should be restricted largely to publications that carried a cover price; generally, advertisers wanted to reach as many people as possible while publishers wanted to count only those who paid for what they read. At its inception, the Audit Report included ‘free copies considered to be of advertising value’ (the Open Road, distributed free to members of the NSW National Roads and Motoring Association, signed up in 1933), but excluded ‘all other Free Copies, Voucher Copies’, and ‘Special Bulk Sales’. Later, the bureau restricted its audit to ‘paid-for copies’, even if the businesses that bought them gave them away.
In 2006, in the interests of transparency, the bureau introduced reporting by type of sale. From 2012, sales were reconfigured into seven categories: accommodation and hotel sales; airline sales; bundled sales (added after 2006); event sales; multiple publication sales; school sales; and tertiary education subscription sales. Since 2012, the bureau has published separate figures for average net paid print-only sales, digital-only sales, and packaged print and digital subscription sales.
In March 2013, the bureau and the Circulations Audit Board (CAB) combined to form the Audited Media Association of Australia (AMAA). CAB, established in 1957 to ‘verify the circulation of free and controlled magazines and newspapers’, and now responsible for auditing digital, web and email publications, covers business and professional publications, speciality publications, community newspapers and community-language publications; from 1972, the monthly Open Road opened up an increasingly large lead over the Women’s Weekly as Australia’s largest-circulation magazine. The founders of the CAB were the Australian Suburban Newspaper Association, the AANA, and some business-to-business publishers. But the driving force was advertisers and their agents: of the original members, 69 were advertisers, 89 were advertising agencies and 16 were publishers. In Melbourne, a Suburban Newspapers Audit Board was formed around the same time, but was short-lived. Within the AMAA, both the bureau and the CAB retain their identities.