Founded in 1914, the Audit Bureau of Circulations–now known as the Alliance for Audited Media–was the first organization of its kind in the United States. An audit bureau is a third-party organization or industry association that tabulates and certifies periodical information and figures. Audit bureaus mainly function to provide verifiable circulation records to build advertisers’ confidence in making ad placement decisions. For historians, though, audit bureaus’ circulation figures allow one to uncover trends in periodical circulation as well as geographic flows of periodicals over time, which ultimately help determine periodicals’ reach and possible importance.
The first semblance of audit bureaus emerged in the 19th century with the rise of advertising agencies. In 1860, George P. Rowell, a New York ad agent, published the American Newspaper Directory, which is often noted as the first attempt to publish a comprehensive circulation list of American periodicals. Other advertising agencies tried to follow Rowell’s lead, but the figures were not reliable or easy to interpret. In 1869, a more reputable directory of American and Canadian periodicals emerged from N.W. Ayer and Son, the first full-service ad agency based in Philadelphia. Our data from 1868-1918 is derived from figures published by these agencies (see more information on that data here).
In the early 1900s, amid the wave of various social movements to create consumer and other protective measures in American society, formal organizations emerged to codify and professionalize industries like publishing and advertising. In 1910, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) was founded in Detroit, Michigan, as a trade organization to look out for the interests of advertisers and consumers. In 1914, to add credibility and accountability to their work, an ANA-based initiative led by advertising executives, ad agencies, and publishers founded the Audit Bureau of Circulations (A.B.C.) in Chicago. It is important to note that the A.B.C. emerged in the same year as the founding of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a federal government agency designed to regulate advertising and promote consumer protection.
For 98 years (and always based in the Chicago area), the A.B.C. focused heavily on print periodicals, but in 2012, the organization rebranded itself with the name Alliance for Audited Media (A.A.M.). Rather than centering its work exclusively on print periodicals, A.A.M. moved to include more reports on digital and cross-platform impressions and circulation. Despite this digital shift in its monitoring efforts, A.A.M. is still the leading organization that verifies major print magazine and newspaper circulation rates, and, as such, remains the significant tracker of American periodicals’ reach and importance.
Membership in the A.B.C. was a sign that periodical publishers were serious about courting advertisers and about having accurate circulation information made available, and the reports used to generate the most detailed data on this site (from 1919-1972) comes directly from these reports. Because of the nature of the A.B.C., most of the reports came from mainstream, commercial magazines rather than niche or avant-garde publications. Magazines submitted reports for six-month periods ending in June and December; these “publisher’s statements” contain a wealth of data including issue-by-issue circulation figures, as well as demographic and geographic data for a representative issue from each reporting period. In some cases, the data reported was marked as estimated; in others (when, for example, a publisher submitted a series of round numbers) it’s easy to see that these were guesses based on early returns from newsstands. Nevertheless, unlike the averages and estimates that have been available in summary form and have served as touchstones for most periodical history until now, the data submitted to the A.B.C. is the most reliable and granular circulation data available to periodical scholars.
Copies of these reports, beginning in 1924, are held in a handful of locations, but no one repository holds a complete set of reports. The most substantial collection of the reports is held by the Library of Congress (LOC), though the University of Chicago (UChi), the Center for Research Libraries (CRL), Emory University (EU), and the New York Public Library (NYPL) all hold some volumes. A handful of volumes are not held in any of these locations. See below for a complete census of where the original reports (titled in most library catalogs A.B.C. Blue Book, Periodical Publisher’s Statements) may be found. Reports from 1919-1923 and select reports missing from the public archives were acquired from the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM) archives, which holds these reports on microfilm in their offices outside Chicago.
|Year||Jan.-June (vol. 1)||July-Dec. (vol. 2)|
|1924||LOC, UChi||LOC, UChi|
|1925||LOC, UChi||LOC, UChi, NYPL|
|1926||LOC, UChi||LOC, NYPL|
|1928||LOC, UChi, NYPL||LOC, UChi|
|1929||LOC, UChi, NYPL||LOC, UChi|
|1930||LOC, UChi||LOC, UChi|
|1931||LOC, UChi||LOC, UChi|
|1932||LOC, UChi||LOC, UChi|
|1933||LOC, UChi||LOC, UChi|
|1934||LOC, UChi, NYPL||LOC, UChi, NYPL|
|1935||LOC, UChi||LOC, UChi|
|1936||LOC, UChi||LOC, UChi|
|1968||LOC, CRL||LOC, CRL|
For Circulating American Magazines, the digitization project was labor-intensive. Co-Directors Hefner and Timke (as well as some students at the University of California, Berkeley) first photographed thousands of reports. These images were accordingly relabeled and categorized by students and the Co-Directors. Students from James Madison University; the University of California, Berkeley, and Duke University, along with the Co-Directors, entered data from the photographed sheets into individual files in Google Sheets, created using a template and reproduction script developed by advisor Brian Geiger. Geodata sheets (the majority of the data) was compiled for use in the visualizations by Kevin Hegg.
All the data was entered by hand. We instituted a number of quality-control protocols, but if you encounter data that you believe may be in error, please contact co-directors Brooks Hefner and Ed Timke.