Combining print and digital circulations will give us a more accurate representation and keeps pace with change

Magazine audiences were once measured by a single, audited print circulation figure. Things are set to change with the latest release of figures from ABC.

It's a fact: we live in a mobile world. Not long after the tablet Christmas delivered various flavours of iPads, Android devices and Kindles in neatly-wrapped packages across the UK, we learned that by the end of 2013, there will be more internet-connected mobile devices than actual people in the whole wide world.

For magazines, the original mobile media, the rise of tablet computing has opened up an incredibly exciting new path. The popularity of replica digital editions of print magazines shows that tablet readers are very comfortable with magazine-style "pages" as a way of consuming editorial content. In addition, the high level of reader engagement with display advertising pages – one of print's particular strengths – has translated directly to the tablet screen, giving advertisers a route to this continually expanding audience.

And yet, to date, if you were to search Google for a measure of the UK consumer magazine industry, the answer most likely to be spat back by the algorithm is an ABC-audited figure of print circulation. So, despite the rapid change of recent years and the industry's sharp focus on new ways of delivering content in the future, we remain a sector defined almost exclusively by its rich heritage in print. Yes, print certainly remains the engine-room of the industry, with £2.23bn spent annually on consumer magazines, but this figure alone no longer tells the whole story.

On 14 February, all that changes. An amendment to the ABC bylaws passed by the ABC board came into force on 1 February which grants media owners greater freedom in how they report their audited circulation figures. As a result, with this latest release of ABC figures for the second half of 2012, the PPA has published a Combined Circulation Chart (CCC): a table of data that clearly shows (where available) a title's print circulation, its digital edition circulation, and the combination of the two as an aggregated total circulation figure.

This ability to produce a combined circulation figure is a vitally important step forward in progressing the measurement of magazines. Digital editions, as per their ABC definition, are either identical or very similar in content to a print equivalent so, while the platform is different, the content being consumed is effectively the same. Combining the two circulation figures is therefore the most accurate representation of the total audience that engages with the editorial and advertising bundled up into that particular magazine "product".

There is a temptation – reinforced by media commentators' preference for setting up "print"' and "digital" as opposite forces rather than complementary platforms – to question the value in pooling together these groups: aren't they very different animals? Well, research from the PPA certainly suggests that this is not the case.

The PPA's TAP Report, which analysed tablet owners' relationship with magazines, found that digital edition readers are defined by their affection for professionally produced content rather than the method of its delivery. They continue to want both print AND digital editions, with 96% having read a printed magazine in the last year compared to the 80% national average; and they also use their mobile device as a gateway to discover new content, with 68% having read newspaper or magazine brands on a tablet that they had not previously read in print.

So, as the PPA enters its centenary year in 2013, magazines are more than finding their place in the mobile world, and the introduction of the CCC is a significant step forward in making sure that measurement keeps pace with change.

Barry McIlheney is chief executive of magazine industry trade body the PPA and former editor of Smash Hits and Empire

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