Coronavirus – Temporary Standards changes and FAQs

We’ve been liaising closely with publishers to ensure that the rapid adaptations they've had to adopt to continue reaching their audiences can be reflected in our circulation data.

We've consulted with publishers and buyers on our Board and Reporting Standards Groups to introduce a number of temporary changes to our requirements and reporting processes to address these challenges.

This page contains a summary of the agreed temporary changes and reporting by sector, with links to the detailed announcements and a list of FAQs to help understanding. 

If you have any questions regarding these changes or any matter relating to ABC reporting please contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Business Magazines Consumer Magazines Newspapers FAQ's 

Business Magazine Changes

Here is an overview of the temporary changes to the Business Magazine Reporting Standards to address the challenges of coronavirus.

Links to the more detailed announcements can be found at the foot of this section. We've also compiled a list of Frequently Asked Questions to help understanding. 

  • You can report issues on a magazine certificate that are circulated solely in digital format.

  • You can substitute digital copies where recipients have previously paid or requested print copies.

  • You've greater flexibility to claim new requests for digital copies as controlled-requested circulation.

  • The five year age limit for controlled requests and sources is extended by a year to allow for the difficulty in conducting re-verification campaigns.

  • Non-controlled free circulation has been opened up to digital copies to replace unfulfilled print circulation.

  • The category Free Letterbox Delivery has been made available to all sectors.

  • We've lifted requirements to notify us in advance of changes to Monitored Free Distribution and Free Letterbox. You may use alternative evidence to replace recipients' signatures as evidence of delivery.

  • For reporting periods ending June 2020 you may select any issue to be your analysed Audit Issue.

  • You may opt to report those issues affected by coronavirus restrictions on a separate COVID-19 certificate. Although published on our website, data from COVID-19 certificates will not be included in our Business Report or Data Hub, recognising the unusual nature of the period and excluding it from trend reporting. The COVID-19 certificate will include the issues' total circulations, analysed by print and digital copies, but no Audit Issue analysed by circulation type.

  • If you've dropped or merged any planned issues or editions you will report these on the certificate.

  • You can add statements explaining significant changes in your circulation strategy and/or your publication in the affected period.

Coronavirus standards announcements:

Temporary changes - Business Magazines 15/04/2020

Temporary changes - Exclusions and COVID-19 certificates 27/03/2020

Temporary changes - all sectors 25/03/2020


Consumer Magazine Changes

Here is an overview of the temporary changes to the Consumer Magazine Reporting Standards to address the challenges of coronavirus.

Links to the more detailed announcements can be found at the foot of this section. We've also compiled a list of Frequently Asked Questions that may help you. 

  • You can report issues on a magazine certificate that are circulated solely in digital format.

  • You can substitute digital copies where recipients have previously paid or requested print copies.

  • You've greater flexibility to claim new requests for digital copies as controlled-requested circulation.

  • The three year age limit for controlled requests and sources is extended by a year to allow for the difficulty in conducting re-verification campaigns.

  • If you are unable to supply print copies to those currently claimed as non-controlled free circulation you may temporarily fulfil those same individual copies digitally.

  • The category Free Letterbox Delivery has been made available to all sectors.

  • We've lifted requirements to notify us in advance of changes to Monitored Free Distribution and Free Letterbox. You may use alternative evidence to replace recipients' signatures as evidence of delivery.

  • You may opt to report those issues affected by coronavirus restrictions on a separate COVID-19 certificate. Although published on our website, data from COVID-19 certificates will not be included in our Consumer Report or Data Hub, recognising the unusual nature of the period and excluding it from trend reporting. 

  • If you've dropped or merged any planned issues or editions you will report these on the certificate.

  • You can add statements explaining significant changes in your circulation strategy and/or your publication in the affected period.

Coronavirus standards announcements:

Temporary changes - Consumer Magazines 15/04/2020

Temporary changes - Exclusions and COVID-19 certificates 27/03/2020

Temporary changes - all sectors 25/03/2020


Newspaper Changes

*UPDATE*: Subject to any significant unforeseen circumstances in the interim, the temporary standards variations and reporting for monthly reporting newsbrands will revert to ‘normal’ from the August 2020 data, which is issued in September. For all other Regional Publications, the temporary standards variations also revert to normal from Monday 3rd August, with COVID reporting available for issues up until this date. 

Here is an overview of the temporary changes to the Reporting Standards for newspapers (National Newspaper, Regional Publication and Bulk Distribution) to address the challenges of coronavirus.

Links to the more detailed announcements can be found at the foot of this section. We've also compiled a list of Frequently Asked Questions that may help you. 

  • You can report issues on a certificate that are circulated solely in digital format.

  • You've greater flexibility to claim new sales or requests for digital copies. 

  • If you've dropped or merged any planned issues or editions you will report these on the certificate.

  • You can add statements explaining significant changes in your circulation strategy and/or your publication in the affected period.

  • For publications reporting under Regional Publications and Bulk Distribution sectors, we've lifted requirements to notify us in advance of changes to Free Pick Up, Free Letterbox and Free Requested copies. You may use alternative evidence to replace recipients' signatures as evidence of delivery.

  • We've introduced special reporting via a COVID-19 certificate. Although published on our website, data from COVID-19 certificates will not be included in our Data Hub, recognising the unusual nature of the period and excluding it from trend reporting. 

    • For publications reporting on a monthly basis: All issues will be reported on COVID-19 certificates from the April 2020 reporting period until such time as ABC agrees that the COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted and are no longer relevant.

    • For publications reporting on a six or twelve monthly basis: You may opt to report those issues affected by coronavirus restrictions on a separate COVID-19 certificate.

Coronavirus standards announcements:

Temporary changes - Exclusions and COVID-19 certificates 27/03/2020

Temporary changes - all sectors 25/03/2020


Frequently Asked Questions

Publication format and Issues  How Copies are Circulated  Submitting Data to ABC  Buyers

 

Changes to publication formats and issues

Q. What are the ABC implications if I don’t publish a planned issue or merge two issues?

You will add a note explaining the change on your next ABC certificate. Your ABC average circulation per issue is based on published issues, so you will exclude dropped issues when calculating your average calculation.

Q. I’ve stopped printing copies of my publication, can I claim just digital versions?

Yes, we have temporarily suspended the requirement for a digital edition to have a print parent. You may wish to highlight this change in a statement on your certificate.

Q. I’m publishing digital versions on a new platform, can I claim them?

You will need to be able to provide evidence to support copies circulated to consumers, and they will need to meet the requirements for the particular paid or free circulation type. We are being pragmatic given the circumstances; therefore if the data available differs from our normal requirements please contact us for advice.

Changes to how copies are circulated

Q. A number of my normal outlets are unavailable, can I deliver free copies to people’s homes?

Yes, we’ve temporarily made Free Letterbox delivery available for all sectors’ ABC circulations. You will need to be able to provide evidence of delivery – please ask us if you have any questions about what’s required.

Q. Can I claim copies where I have switched from supplying a consumer with a print copy to a digital copy?

We’ve temporarily suspended the requirements that specify a payment or request must specifically be for a digital copy. This means you may claim a digital copy that you’ve substituted for a paid or requested print copy that is usually mailed to a known individual (i.e. single and multiple copy subscriptions and controlled free circulation). You will need evidence to support the circulation of the digital copy.

Q. If I send a copy to an individual’s home and office address can they both count?

No. You can send two copies if you wish, but will still need to remove duplicates to the same individual and claim just one.

Q. What if I’m unable to carry out telemarketing campaigns to re-verify my free copies?

To avoid you unexpectedly losing copies from your controlled or requested figures, we have extended both the oldest age band for controlled requested copies and the age limit for supporting sources by one year. Please look at our update on temporary standards changes for more details.

Q. If I extend a consumer’s subscription period because issues can’t be delivered will copies in the extended period still count?

There are a number of ways you might address changes in the supply of copies and you will want to be clear with your subscribers about their entitlement. Providing it’s clear that under any changes the copies are still covered by the subscription and paid for, you may claim the copies as paid subscriptions.

 

Compiling and submitting circulation claims

Q. Is there any change to when I should I submit my circulation returns?

We appreciate every organisation will be operating differently to a greater or lesser degree and this is challenge. We have not made any changes to our timetable for submitting circulation returns and publishing reports, therefore please work to the normal schedule. Of course if you have any difficulties, for example due to availability of staff, please get in touch with us.

Q. Can I exclude issues from my average circulation because of the Coronavirus restrictions?

You may either use existing rules for excluding issues from the average circulation or choose to report affected issues on our special stand-alone ‘COVID-19’ certificates. It is unlikely that coronavirus would provide grounds for an exclusion on a ‘normal’ certificate which is why we have introduced the COVID-19 Certificate option.

Newsbrands that report monthly are designating set reporting periods as following COVID-19 reporting by default.

Please look at our update on temporary standards changes relating to exclusions for more details.

Q. What is a COVID-19 certificate?

This is a special stand-alone certificate to report circulation for issues affected by the restrictions separately from ‘business as usual’. This is so that publications’ circulations during the exceptional period are transparent and the longer-term trends outside the affected period are not distorted.

The COVID-19 certificate will in most cases be published alongside a normal certificate which will include the issues reported as normal.

Please look at our update on temporary standards changes for more details.

Q. How do I submit my data if I want to opt for a COVID-19 certificate?

You will submit your data using our normal online Returns System. We have set up a normal and COVID-19 Return Form for each publication:

  • If you do not wish to report any affected issues on a separate COVID-19 certificate, you only need to complete the normal return, and can ignore the COVID-19 return.

  • If you do wish to report affected issues on a separate COVID-19 certificate, then you will need to complete both returns for your title(s). You must include all published issues in the period split across both Return Forms - entering unaffected issues for your normal certificate on your normal return and affected issues for your COVID-19 certificate on your COVID-19 return.

Q. How will buyers know what changes I’ve made to my circulation during this period?

You will include statements on your certificate covering changes you have made, such as dropping or merging issues. You may also include a statement describing significant changes in circulation strategy as a result of the pandemic.

Q. What can I say in the statement about my circulation for this period?
In the interests of transparency you can include a statement on your certificate explaining significant changes in your circulation strategy or your publication as a result of the pandemic.

This is your opportunity to provide a narrative of changes you have made alongside the figures. A statement may be included on both normal and COVID-19 certificates.

The statement:

  • Should be limited to your circulation and your publication (e.g. 'We reduced our print run due to the closure of a number of outlets and increased digital copy circulation').
  • Should not include comparisons with other products or the market (e.g. can’t say “As the No.1 women’s magazine…”).
  • Should not reference other unaudited data related to the product (e.g. can’t say “50,000 readers visited our website in one week”).

We aim to be accommodating and understanding of the wording you use but reserve the right to amend if we feel they are inappropriate.

Q. When will the temporary changes to ABC standards cease to be available?

We will continue to review events and liaise with our members, communicating any decision on this as soon as we are able.

Q. If I opt to report affected issues on a COVID-19 certificate, how do I treat estimates for retail sales?

The purpose of the COVID-19 certificate is to report circulation for issues affected by the restrictions separately from ‘business as usual’. This is so that a publication’s circulation during the exceptional period is transparent and the longer-term trends outside the affected period are not unduly distorted.

Therefore you must keep estimated sales and related adjustments for normal (i.e. non-COVID-19) certificates separate from COVID-19 certificates, and apply estimates (and any adjustments) in relation to issues reported on COVID-19 certificates only on COVID-19 certificates.

The following illustrate how you should treat estimated sales:

  1. You will adjust for differences between estimated and actual sales for the period ending December 2019 against the average circulation reported on the subsequent normal (i.e. non COVID-19) certificate. This could either be for the period Jan - June 2020 or Jan - Dec 2020, depending on your chosen reporting frequency.

  2. If you don’t know the final sales for issues on a COVID-19 certificate, you must make an estimate. If the estimates turn out to be incorrect, the treatment is as follows:

    1. If there is no subsequent COVID-19 certificate, you would not make an adjustment for the difference between the estimated and actual sales. We will check the difference at audit and, if it would have a significant effect on the average circulation, update the certificate to reflect the actual figures.

    2. If you publish a second COVID-19 certificate (for a subsequent period, assuming restrictions are continuing to affect publications), you will adjust for the difference between the estimated and actual average sale on that second COVID-19 certificate. For example: You report a COVID-19 certificate for affected issues during the period Jan - June 2020 and another COVID-19 certificate covering affected issues falling in the July – Dec 2020 period. Any under or overstatement of the average sale arising due to the estimate for the issues on the Jan-June COVID-19 certificate, would be adjusted against the average circulation for the July – Dec 2020 COVID-19 certificate.

  3. You will adjust for differences between estimated and actual sales for issues on a normal (non-COVID-19) certificate for the period ending June 2020 as usual - against the average circulation on the subsequent normal (i.e. non-COVID-19) certificate for the period July to December 2020.

You can find more information and worked examples of estimated retail sales and adjustments in the relevant guidance sections of the Reporting Standards for Retail Sales.

Q. How will you carry out audits while social-distancing measures are in place?

To maintain social distancing we’ve been completing all audits 100% remotely since the start of lockdown. This will continue for the foreseeable future.

Auit planning & closing meetings will be completed by video call wherever possible and we have a range of options for you to share documents electronically, being mindful of the need to maintain data security.  

 

Buyers

Q. Will circulation data be reported as normal for the period affected by coronavirus?

We've introduced a temporary COVID-19 certificate for reporting circulations.

  • This is a special stand-alone certificate to report circulation for issues affected by the restrictions separately from ‘business as usual’.

  • This is so that publications’ circulations during the exceptional period are transparent and the longer-term trends outside the affected period are not distorted.

  • The COVID-19 certificate will in most cases be published alongside a normal certificate which will include the issues reported as normal. However newsbrands that report monthly have been following COVID-19 reporting by default since the April reporting period.

Q. What is a COVID-19 certificate?

This is a special stand-alone certificate to report circulation for issues affected by the restrictions separately from ‘business as usual’. This is so that publications’ circulations during the exceptional period are transparent and the longer-term trends outside the affected period are not distorted.

Q. Where can I find the COVID-19 certificates?

The COVID-19 certificates are being published on the indvidual publications' pages on our website. You can find these by using the search box on our website, right clicking the title in our Data Hub or via a link on the publication's normal certificate or searching for the publication.

The data will not be included in our Data Hub or published reports because it's not considered comparable to previous periods.

Q. Have your circulation requirements changed as a result of coronavirus?

As well as the COVID-19 certificates we've made a number of temporary changes to our standards.

These changes are to provide flexibility for our members, who were faced with a sudden need to adapt their products and methods of distribution in order to contuining to reach their audience as the country locked down.

You can find summaries of the changes under the relevant publication sector above and more detail by following the links to our published announcements.

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