Audit body reveals simplified digital reporting system following departure of Fairfax from audit

The Audited Media Association of Australia has defended its metrics following the departure of Fairfax Media from its digital audit as it unveils an update to the way it  reports total sales of mastheads – including print and digital.

The new, simplified ABC reporting combines all print and digital sales in the new ABC Total Sales metric which takes in the existing, average net paid sales across print and digital and combines them into one overall sales figure.


Ryan: The industry found it quite confusing as digital was being counted like print

Speaking with Mumbrella, Josanne Ryan, AMAA CEO, said:  “It’s fundamentally a reporting change. There were a couple of reasons for it. Digital sales were first reported in 2012, and from when I came on board there was quite a lot of discussion around changes in how publishers are now marketing their digital sales – a lot of packing and different packaging had happened.

“The industry found it quite confusing. What was happening with digital was, it was being counted like print – it was being assigned to a day of week – which was nonsensical because it’s 24/7. We’re not reporting it to a day of week at all.

“We’ve gone to a completely simplified metric – what we’re reporting on is print sales, digital sales and a new ABC Total Sales. We’re basically adding together print and digital to get a total sales figure as opposed to doing total masthead, which was a constructed figure where packages were allowed to be counted as either print or digital.”

The changes follow on from Fairfax Media pulling its mastheads out of the digital audit last week.

greg hywood

Hywood: We consider it to be an incomplete measure of our digital subscriptions business

At an investor presentation, Greg Hywood, Fairfax Media CEO, said: “We have decided to change our reporting of audited digital sales via the AMAA because we consider it to be an incomplete measure of our digital subscriptions business.

“Our digital subscriber growth is the result of new products, including our site licenses, which are currently unable to be counted in the AMAA numbers.

“Growth through new digital products which cannot be counted, and the ongoing structural decline in legacy print subscribers who have digital access included in their subscription, makes it appear that our paid digital subscriber numbers are declining, when in fact they are growing across all three of our mastheads.

“So from the next release from the AMAA, you will see ‘zero’ digital sales reported. We will continue to provide audited print circulation data to the AMAA. An accurate picture of our paid digital subscribers for metro mastheads, and associated revenue, is provided in the data we regularly disclose to the market in our financial reporting. That is, the 209,000 paid digital subscribers we have across the SMH, The Age and the Financial Review.”Audited Media Association of Australia AMAA logo - cropped wideAMAA’s Ryan said Fairfax Media was part of the audit review which has seen the body simplify its digital metric and that site licenses were raised as a concern, but Fairfax Media rejected that the inclusion or exclusion of site licences in the reporting was a deal-breaker.

Said Ryan: “Fairfax have indicated to us that dipping out of reporting digital sales is not related to this change, which was in place before they made that decision.

“When we were going through that review one of the topics was site sales, which I know they’ve mentioned is something they’re growing quite a bit of traction in.

“It actually isn’t like an individual subscription count in the normal way. We did have some discussion around it, it was decided to park it for this review. It would probably have to be a separate reporting form.”

On Fairfax’s investor figure, Ryan said: “That’s an unaudited number”.

“I can’t comment on why Fairfax chose to use a different figure to the ASX. They say it was because they wanted to report a purely digital figure without legacy print.”

Ryan rejected the idea that the audit body could do the same as Fairfax and report a “point-in-time” subscription figure.

“The reason this is an average over 13 weeks and it’s done to a particular way is you can’t benchmark sales figures unless they’re all done in the same way. There would be no point us trying to benchmark the publishers if they just chose to tell us their highest sales figure of a week.

“If you just took a point-in-time when you’re doing print circulation, they’d just give you their highest circulation week.”

“What’s happening is the industry is just changing so much so everyone’s grappling with ‘where do we go now’ and hence they’ve made that decision to go with the investor sales figure.

Wagering "an area of huge opportunity for News Corp" says Damian Eales

Eales: Media buyers and advertisers aren’t interested in circulation

Fairfax’s departure from the audit caused Damien Eales, News Corp Australian managing director of metro and regional publishing, call the validity of the metric into question.

“The Fairfax action raises the question about the validity of the whole audit process going forward — digital and print,” Eales told The Australian.

“The reality is that media buyers and advertisers aren’t interested in circulation. They plan media based on the audience that reads a paper, not the number of papers printed.”

On the comments Ryan said: “We’ve said this to Fairfax, that we want to work with them to provide a metric that is useful to them. Digital sales aren’t like print sales in that print sales correlate directly with readership because it’s an engaged buyer metric.

“With digital, with the freemium model you can get so much content for free so there isn’t that correlation between digital sales and audience so it isn’t the same sort of sales. That’s where I think Damien’s comments were coming from.”


Ryan said if News Corp did follow Fairfax’s lead and pull out of the audit that would be something the AMAA would accept.

“If none of the publishers wanted to report digital sales that would be something we would decide with them, and if needs be that would be what would happen,” she said.

“We started reporting digital sales because the industry wanted it – the assumption was print sales would be replaced with digital, the freemium model is showing it’s not as a simple a transition as some thought.

Ryan added: “What we will report will depend on two things: what the publishers believe works for them in the market and what the advertisers and the agencies tell us they want.

“We know the agencies whilst print is still being invested in, they want circulation data. Digital sales is not a trading metric in the same way – it was used more as a brand health piece, that’s changing shape.

“The AMAA – News and Fairfax, are both our members so if we need to evolve anything we do we will work with them, and the other members on that.”

On the AMAA’s continued relevance to the industry Ryan said the body does more than the audits.

“It’s not as if the print audit is the only thing we do or our only focus. One of our key focuses is to step up to be the verification provider for the industry whatever channel that is across,” she said.

“We’re doing a lot around what the next evolution of what the AMAA is. I couldn’t really say right now but I think we’ll address those things in the future. The publishing of the circulation is a pain point and that’s why we’re seeing this sort of thing happen.”


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