The Telegraph Media Group has said it will no longer subscribe to the ABC circulation audit system as part of its strategy to focus on digital, a move that has set alarm bells ringing for ad execs.
The Daily Telegraph publisher announced plans to withdraw from the widely-used ABC reporting framework following the publication of most recent figures on Thursday (16 January), which show print sales of its flagship paper to have declined 12% year-on-year to 317,817.
The ABCs are regarded as the UK’s first 'joint industry currency' for the media industry and they act as a kitemark for news organisations, who can opt in or out at any time.
In a statement highlighting how digital readership has now taken over, the media business said: "The ABC results published, today, January 16th, are the final set of ABC results Telegraph Media Group will take part in. While they do show that the Telegraph remains the highest-selling quality newspaper, by circa 8,000 copies a day, the ABC metric is not the key metric behind our subscription strategy and not how we measure our success."
Now, the group which also publishes The Sunday Telegraph, said it will remain "transparent" with its core subscriber numbers (across all channels) and it will communicate these numbers itself each month, sharing both volumes and average revenue per subscription.
Despite the promise these numbers will be "independently assured" by PWC, the Institute for Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), which represents agencies, expressed discomfort over the broadsheet's exit from the ABCs.
"The IPA is extremely concerned by the news that The Telegraph is to pull out of ABC," said director general Paul Bainsfair in a statement, adding that the system was industry-supported and produced "trusted, independent and transparent data" for buyers.
"We know our members strongly support the independent, agreed JIC (Joint Industry Currency) standards of ABC and a separate audit from elsewhere, which may not be in the public domain, does not give them the same confidence needed to support advertising expenditure," he added.
"We urge the Telegraph to reconsider its approach and work within ABC to achieve its strategic aims."
For its part, a subscriber-first strategy underpinned by long term investment in The Telegraph’s digital transformation.
The company said its digital subscriptions grew 44% during 2019. In December, digital overtook print subscriptions at 213,868 compared with 209,443. The group has a target of reaching 10 million online registered users and one million subscribers by 2023.
Planting a stake in the ground for publishers?
Despite the alarm from the IPA, however, Steve Goodman of specialist buying agency The Press — who also previously served on the ABC board following a career as an ad buyer in press print during newspapers' final hurrah — thinks the move could lead to positive change in what metrics the ABC hands over to publishers.
"What the Telegraph has done, to a degree, is taken a stand and put a marker in the ground to say 'look, it can't go on like this, we won't accept the way this data is reported' because it believes the way the numbers are reported needs to change," he told The Drum.
"I kind of agree with it on that. The [ABC's] headline numbers could move to a different kind of metric that looks across all aspects of engagement and allows buyers to break out what's important to them, and what's not."
He highlighted how the auditor, which has already been making some changes with regards to what it reports back newsbrands, could improve upon the frequency of its reports and how it presents its data.
"What this action from the Telegraph may do is force the ABC into reviewing what it does and how it's [data] is used. It could reconsider certain elements in order to move it into a position where it's more useful for newspapers and the people who use this data to sell on both sides."
The Telegraph's exit from the ABCs follows on from Newsquest resigning the system last year.
In 2018, the Published Audience Measurement Company (PamCo), which replaced the National Readership Survey (NRS), launched a fresh measurement system offering up what it claimed was more granular insights to advertisers.
The Telegraph is a founding subscriber to PamCo, which allows brands to view audience reach across all platforms including phone, tablet, desktop and print.