By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

More on those inflated digital circulation numbers

Jon Chesto of the Boston Business Journal takes on a subject that I tackled recently: trying to make sense of The Boston Globe’s paid circulation figures at a time when no one seems to know how to count print and digital sales.

As Chesto and a number of us have observed, the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM), whose numbers are considered to be the industry standard, has gotten carried away with digital subscriptions, allowing the Globe and other newspapers to count some subscribers two or even three times. Chesto writes:

This potential for discrepancies and confusion is one reason why the AAM board, which oversees how newspaper circulations are reported to advertisers, is weighing whether to tighten its rules.

It’s hard these days to get a precise number for unique paying subscribers, a figure that AAM was generally able to provide, back when it was known as the Audit Bureau of Circulations, and readership was essentially measured by the number of copies sold.

There’s no question we need a standard that everyone can agree on and that makes sense. Paid digital has enabled the Globe to improve its circulation numbers, and that’s fine. But the AAM system is so out of whack that it’s in danger of not being taken seriously.

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  1. peter sullivan

    Just to clear up a quick nit picky point for Mr Chesto, AAM or what used to be ABC as he pointed out, quantified paid circulation of newspapers, Readership, a different thing is derived by market surveys like Scarborough, etc… They are two different things that come from two separate places. Otherwise I fully agree that they are over stating the number of total paid readers for papers with a paid digital product. And the circulation folks at those papers know it and design subscription plans to maximize it.

  2. The comment posted by Sam Solomon on the BBJ’s web page misses or deliberately ignores the point of Mr Chesto’s piece. The issues Mr. Chesto outlines could pertain to any publication including the BBJ. The key issue revolves around the fact that a publication such as the Globe, the Herald, the Wall Street Journal or the BBJ, sets its ad rates based on how many people are willing to pay to read it daily/weekly, on average. Mr. Chesto doesn’t take sides here, but he does point out that if this is the formula the Globe uses, advertisers might be getting 10% fewer potential readers than they thought they were — or, conversely, could be getting a 10% bonus. If you are shelling out serious money for an ad, you certainly would want to know, wouldn’t you?

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