Can a circulation audit help boost advertising?

July 8, 2014

By Tim Bingaman
President & CEO | Circulation Verification Council

Who would ever voluntarily choose to be audited? The word “audit” itself makes most people picture stern IRS accountants, dusty records and sleepless nights.

The truth is a circulation audit is not as stress inducing as the name may seem. Circulation audits simply show advertisers how your readers may be their potential customers. The fact is most newspapers have a much better story to tell than all those demise-of-print articles we’ve read. Whether you simply have a newspaper, or have expanded into websites, digital editions, social media, text media, e-mail newsletters, blogs, podcasts, or niche publications, circulation audits show advertisers why your audience matters to their business.

A circulation audit measures a newspaper’s net press run, gross distribution, and net circulation over a period of time. More importantly, audit companies release these numbers by ZIP code, county, MSA, CBSA, and DMA to hundreds of major retailers and media buyers across the country. The acronyms in the previous sentence simply define geographic areas that most media buyers use during print evaluations.

Circulation audits insure that your newspaper’s information is available to media buyers when they are evaluating a potential buy in your market. Imagine you are a media buyer on a deadline. You need information at your fingertips. You typically buy what you have in your media database. As publishers you need to make sure your newspaper’s information is readily available, and one way to do that is by being audited. Supplying postal receipts to substantiate your distribution numbers when requested is easy, but a circulation audit analyzes those numbers in detail, lists them in formats preferred by media buyers, and populates your information into the databases media buyers use to evaluate newspaper buys. Circulation audits also report readership study data that further measures reader demographics, and how readers interact with your newspaper to give media buyers valuable insight into your audience.

Almost every day I speak to publishers who are embarrassed about their website and new media audiences. Your newspaper website may not be as bad as you think.

Circulation audits measure and report traditional and new media to tell media buyers the story of your total market reach. The average community newspaper’s monthly unique visitors equals 25 percent of their average net print circulation. A newspaper with 5,000 net print circulation would then have 1,250 unique visitors to its website each month. No matter how high or low your website’s unique visitors, media buyers consider your website to be important value added media to increase reach in your market.

Another popular circulation audit measurement is digital editions. Digital editions have not only become inexpensive, but they also offer easy revenue streams. Media buyers consider digital editions essential as they evaluate potential buys because access to a digital edition allows them to present the publication for client evaluation quickly and easily. Multiple data points from both your website and digital edition are included in your newspaper’s audit report to show the extended reach you have in your market.

Because readers are not keeping newspapers in their homes as long, digital editions are essential because they allow readers to refer back to articles or ads later in the edition cycle.

Annual circulation audits, coupled with readership studies, can increase a media buyer’s awareness of your publication. With annual costs beginning at $1,280, circulation audits and readership studies can be a jump-start to your marketing efforts to reach local, regional and national media buyers.


Companies that offer newspaper circulation audits


Alliance for Audited Media

48 W. Seegers Road

Arlington Heights, IL 60005

224-366-6939 •


BPA Worldwide

100 Beard Sawmill Road, 6th Floor

Shelton, CT 06484

203-447-2800 •


Certified Audit of Circulations

155 Willowbrook Blvd.

Wayne, NJ 07470

973-785-3000 •


Circulation Verification Council

338 South Kirkwood Road, Suite 102

St. Louis, MO 63122

800-262-6392 •


Verified Audit Circulation

900 Larkspur Landing Circle, Suite 230

Larkspur, CA 94941

(415) 461-6006 •

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