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Tuesday, March 16, 2010, 03:00 pm PT (06:00 pm ET)

iPad prompts changes to way magazines count circulation

Though it's yet to hit the market, Apple's iPad is already changing the rules of the games when it comes to how magazines quantify their readership and distribution, unlocking the potential for more lucrative advertising contracts with their sponsors.

According to the Associated Press, the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) — a non-profit audit agency that assesses circulation, readership, and audience information for magazines and newspapers — has altered its definition of a digital magazine to include the emerging class of tablet-style devices.

This means that magazine publishers can design their article spreads to be accessed by applications on the iPad and count paid digital subscriptions to those apps as part of their overall circulation, given that they include the same content and advertisements as their print-based counterparts.

Had the ABC not instated the change, publishers would only be able to count digital editions of their magazines that existed as exact facsimiles of their print editions, according to the AP, affording them little leeway in customization for gadgets like the iPad.

"Magazines need the change because they charge for ads based on the size of their so-called rate base, the circulation they guarantee to advertisers," the report explains. "By comparison, newspapers have had looser restrictions. Because they don't guarantee a rate base, they can count people who pay for access to their Web sites regardless of what ads run there."

There's one caveat, however: the ABC must approve each iPad app, and those for other tablet platforms, before its subscribers can be counted as part of the magazine's overall circulation.

A version of Conde Nast's Wired magazine is said to be among the first apps to receive such approval. The publishing firm is also reportedly working on similar apps for its GQ, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Glamour offerings.

Apple's iPad goes on sale April 3th in the United States.