Recently, D.B. Hebbard posted a useful reminder of a simple reality: "Thanks to digital media, the magazine industry is today much more than just AAM-audited titles or those whose ad pages are counted each month."
AAM is the Alliance for Audited Media, the organization that tracks circulation for a range of periodicals. Writing for Talking New Media, Hebbard argues that industry reporting amounts to "writing about magazines with blinders on":
Branded magazines, association and academic periodicals have always made up a significant portion of the industry, but it was probably safe to ignore them if you wanted to take the temperature of the magazine industry. No more.
Today, a far larger portion of the industry lies outside the view of the auditing bureaus and ad page counting services. On any given day more digital editions are launched by both individuals and publishing start-ups.
Hebbard warns against drawing conclusions based on a sample set that is limited to audited media alone. Publications that don't rely on advertising find little value in audit services, as they don't need to prove their circulation numbers. Very few association media offerings are audited; many see the services as an unnecessary expense.
Although Hebbard writes specifically about magazines, his assessment is a useful reminder for book publishers. Industry reports are almost always extensions of what we know about traditional publishers and established channels. They typically miss at least some portion of new entrants and the impact of new platforms.
That doesn't invalidate these analyses. It's worth understanding reports from the likes of AAM and BISG, but we have to draw conclusions carefully. Data is presented using a framework that is necessarily a function of the world we know. There could be some interesting things happening in the world we have yet to fully see.
A bit of disclosure: Magellan Media is a member of both AAM and BISG, and we subscribe to data services offered by both.