A change to publishing rules will allow publications bundled with other items to be counted as paid sales.

The change to circulation recording regulations will allow magazines and newspapers bundled with other items to be counted as paid circulation, provided the price is greater than the stand-alone price.

Before the change, such sales had to be recorded as average other sales.

Critics say the alteration will devalue Australia’s circulation standard, effectively allowing publishers to give away publications, however Pacific Magazines said:

We would argue that there are adequate avenues to include circulation which may have some value to advertisers but do not qualify as average net paid sales under the rules. These circulations can be covered under average other sales in the ABC [Audit Bureau of Circulations] rules or auditing under CAB [Circulations Audit Board] rules. We believe that the continual dilution of the ANPS [Average Net Paid Sales] classification, by extending the qualification, is detrimental to maintaining this gold standard.”

The new method will be in use during the first quarter of 2009. News Limited proposed the shift to the Audit Bureau of Circulations in November, arguing similarity with hair care twin-packs and fast-food meal deals and that there was no devaluing of individual product in these cases.

Some of these may be offering a better value proposition, but that is a bonus and not necessarily the driver of purchase in the eyes of the consumers. The real benefit is convenience and making choice easier, said News Limited.

Beyond the cost qualification, bundled publications must meet further conditions to count as paid sales. Consumers must be able to purchase the items separately and returned or refused copies must be accounted for.

Gordon Towell, chief executive of the Audit Bureau of Circulations, said a majority of members voted in favour of the new rule. The Media Federation of Australia were also in favour of the change.