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Metro USA Will Offer Monthly Newspaper Audits

Metro USA, a publisher of free newspapers distributed at commuter points in New York, Boston and Philadelphia, will offer its media buyers and advertisers audited circulation data on a monthly basis beginning next year.

BPA Worldwide will track the monthly circulation of Metro New York, Metro Boston and Metro Philadelphia. The Shelton, CT-based media auditor currently is conducting a quarterly audit of these newspapers.

“Metro executives have told BPA that they decided to increase the frequency of their BPA audits to monthly for the straightforward reason that they want to provide advertisers with as much assurance as possible that Metro delivers on its circulation promises,” said Karlene Lukovitz, vice president of communications at BPA.

A tabloid-format newspaper with straightforward news delivery, Metro's U.S. editions are published Monday through Friday. The papers handed out near subways, trains, buses or trolley cars and in service racks. Other placement venues include hotels, office buildings, retail stores, busy streets and college campuses.

Metro's decision to report monthly comes soon after the publishing industry was roiled by circulation scandals at Hollinger International's Chicago Sun-Times, Belo Corp.'s Dallas Morning News and Tribune Co.'s Newsday and Hoy newspapers.

Metro USA becomes the first BPA-audited newspaper group to offer monthly reporting of audited circulation. Newspapers and magazines typically report circulation data every six months. Third parties like BPA and the Audit Bureau of Circulations subsequently audit these publisher's statements each year. By contrast, broadcasters offer next-day viewership numbers to advertisers.

Audits for the Metro USA newspapers will follow two separate procedures. First, BPA conducts comprehensive weekly field-testing and monitoring of delivery locations for draws — the number of copies distributed — and returns. Next, there is monthly on-site auditing of printing documents as well as distribution and returns data at Metro USA offices and distribution vendors.

This is not Metro's first brush with BPA. The auditor has been auditing Metro Toronto and Metro Montreal since 2000 and 2001, respectively. Its CCAB Canadian division handles those audits.

Metro USA is part of Metro International S.A., Luxembourg. The parent company publishes 40 daily editions of Metro in 15 languages across 54 cities in 16 countries. The first Metro edition launched in 1995. Editions are available in Asia, Europe and the Americas. Metro Philadelphia's launch in 2000 was the brand's first foray into the United States. Metro New York debuted in May.

The Metro brand is read worldwide by 14 million readers daily and more than 30 million weekly, the publisher claims. The three U.S. editions have a combined circulation of 620,000.

In an announcement made Oct. 20, Metro claimed a 49 percent year-over-year increase in net sales to $207 million for the nine months ending Sept. 30. Operating profit was $2 million. Year-to-date sales of the U.S. operations grew 33 percent to $15.6 million. Metro New York's launch this year caused a January-to-September operating loss of $9 million and third-quarter loss of $4.5 million for the U.S. operations. But Metro USA is willing to swallow short-term losses for the long-term potential in U.S. media.

Metro USA's monthly audits of newspapers are a step toward gaining more credibility with advertisers deceived by manipulated circulation numbers. On Oct. 26, the New York Post accused its tabloid rival the Daily News of fudging circulation numbers. The Post claimed the News “engaged in several practices that suggest [its] circulation figures may be inflated.”

They include “charging retailers for papers that are given away, then reimbursing those retailers; failing to take nonpaying home subscribers off distribution lists and keep them off; and charging home delivery dealers for papers they don't need, then later reimbursing them.”

The Daily News took offense.

“We take very seriously the rules imposed on our industry by the ABC,” Les Goodstein, president and chief operating officer, said in a statement. “Our advertisers rely on our honesty and credibility, and I believe it is a testament to the way we do business that we have their trust. Not surprisingly, [the story] in the Post leaves out many important facts that their readers have a right to know.”

Monthly audits may just be the prescription. Such auditing frequency certainly gives Metro a marketing advantage over a free rival like am New York. It also is a unique differentiator against bigger, more established competitors. A few newspapers in Britain report circulation data monthly to compete in a hardscrabble media market.

“The marketplace, meaning media buyers and newspaper publishers themselves, will ultimately decide what effect this Metro/BPA initiative may have on the traditional twice-yearly reporting and annual auditing of newspapers,” Lukovitz said.

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