Times are tough for magazine publishers. From dramatic declines in subscribers to dramatic declines in ad pages, it seems that publishers just can’t get a break. Until now.

On Tuesday, the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) announced that it’s changing the requirements for qualifying U.S. and Canadian consumer magazine circulation figures.

Before, for a digital version of a magazine to be counted in circulation audits, the digital version had to be identical to the print version in all respects, including advertising.

That, for obvious reasons, was challenging. As Mike Lavery, President of the ABC, explained:

Early magazine digital editions were commonly PDFs of the print version, so ABC required a digital replica to be just that—an exact version of the print issue. But with today’s advanced publishing software for tablet devices like the iPad, the environment is far richer and more complex…

The new parameters simplify the process, make the advertiser’s intent clear, and streamline the audit requirements.

There’s no doubt that the publishing landscape for magazines is a lot more complex today, so changing the requirements probably makes sense.

There is one catch however. The new requirements dictate that “while advertising presented in the print national edition must be available for
inclusion in the replica digital edition, it no longer must be the same between
the versions”.

That means a publisher wanting to maintain a silo between print advertising and digital advertising, for whatever reason, may find complying with the new requirements a difficult proposition.

What’s more interesting than the update to the ABC’s requirements, however, is the fact that many publishers were already moving ahead of them.

As paidContent notes, publishers like Hearst had decided that “[doing] as much to reach the audience first with added features designed to
make more of their magazines
” was more important than adhering to the ABC’s requirements.

Obviously, the ABC has caught up and these publishers likely won’t have to worry about compliance going forward, but the fact that they put consumers before circulation figures shows that some print publishers might just be making progress after all.

The truth of the matter is that audited circulation figures matter for magazine publishers, but running a profitable business matters more.

Letting something like third party auditing requirements dictate how you run your business at a time that requires dramatic transformation and innovation is usually not a good idea, and hopefully print publishers will keep that in mind going forward.