Third-party circulation validation

The importance of third-party circulation validation cannot be overstated. Circulation is one of the only hard-data, empirical evidence verifications advertisers can get. Wrongfully manipulating the numbers for the purpose of inflating the actual numbers of the market served is often viewed as fraud, with recent sentences in the U.S. including jail time and fines.

Canadian trade magazine Woodworking has a history since 2007 of extreme irregularities in its circulation reporting. These include a 2010 effort on the part of Stuart Morrison, then president of Woodworking’s parent company, CLB Media to sell Woodworking. At this point it is known that Morrison’s offer was rejected by Annex Publishing, which company purchased all the other industrial titles of CLB Media, and it was rejected by W.I. Media Inc., the parent company of Wood Industry, in part because of known circulation concerns. These included the purchase by CLB Media of some magazines in the primary wood sector and the use of those lists, and the dismissal of CLB Media’s circulation manager at that time.

As of June 8, 2015, the most current circulation audit statement from BPAWW, Woodworking’s circulation auditing board, is from September of 2013. Here is what W.I. Media provided to Blum Canada in August of 2014, which remains the most current review. Akhurst Woodworking Machinery was provided the same information.

I have attached a copy the 2013 September Woodworking Audit released August 7 2014 for the 12 Month Period Ended September 2013 of Woodworking’s circulation reports for 2013. This one is important. Rather than spend hours addressing each major problem, let me please direct your attention to the box at the end, right above the certification statement by BPA. The box is called Additional Data.

Additional Data is where BPA is obliged to state any errors or inconsistencies in the year’s unaudited statements. Specifically, the audit report is the result of an “above-tolerance error” having been found in the previous two statements. (Editor’s Note: A “statement” is the report of the publisher. An “audit report” is the audited report.)

According to BPAWW, “The audit revealed 1,133 copies or 7.9% duplicated copies on the September/October 2013 analyzed issue and 867 copies or 6.1% duplicated copies on the March/April 2013 analyzed issue.” The word “and” is a statistically functional word that means plus, for a total of 2,000. This is a certified audit. If they had meant “partially incorporated” or “including,” they would have said so, so the entire list appears to be padded by 2,000.

Similarly, in this case, “duplicated” does not mean “same address.” It means duplicated and misreported. Therefore, on its face this represents a 7.9 percent to 14 percent overpayment by Blum on Woodworking’s overstated and discovered circulation claims.

In the next paragraph, the report wanders into assumptions I believe are designed to protect its customer. The report makes a statistical assumption to correct the problem with averaging. However, if you look at Woodworking’s Adds and Kills (Page 1, Paragraph 2) for the claimed period, you will see there are 3 adds in May, 9 adds in July and 1,629 in September, and 16 kills in May, 9 in July and 1,565 in September.* Clearly, the September issue was the one weighted with adjustments, and was also the issue hardest hit by error. Therefore, while there may or may not be a cause:effect correlation between weighting and error, there is certainly no justification for averaging. Woodworking loaded the dice and got caught.

There is much to criticize, here, and my belief is that the 8 percent (they rounded down when they should not have) disparity is much smaller than the real number should be, and I have raised a formal objection with BPAWW. I can explain if you are interested. For example, I am demanding to know why this report was released on August 7, 2014, when I have been requesting it since January. This means many of Woodworking’s advertisers were not provided accurate market information and based their ad buys on misrepresentations for months, including their decisions to advertise in the critical pre-IWF issues.

However, to keep it short, the Audit Report shows that Blum has been paying for market reach it has not been provided, and companies in my former experience would feel entitled to request a rebate on the overpayment.

Naturally, I am available at any time to discuss our own audit, circulation statements and market reach. As I noted earlier, market response is all that matters in advertising. All the rest is just ink and paper.

Editor’s note: The letters contained a non-substantive typographical error. The corrected sentence reads: However, if you look at Woodworking’s Adds and Kills (Page 1, Paragraph 2) for the claimed period, you will see there are 16 adds in May, 9 adds in July and 1,565 in September, and 1 kill in May, 9 in July and 1,629 in September.

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