Circulation 101: U.S. Newspaper Terms for Nonpaid Circulation

June 24, 2019

U.S. newspaper reports and data have separate categories for nonpaid circulation. Read this brief overview to learn more.

Sandi Licking, Client Solutions Training Manager


In our Circulation 101 columns, we explore some of the foundational knowledge needed to understand and analyze print and digital circulation. Whether you’re new to circulation and AAM and need a cheat sheet or you’re a veteran looking for a quick refresh, we’ve got something for you. In this column, we’ll explain the two nonpaid newspaper circulation categories: qualified and verified.

Qualified and verified nonpaid newspaper categories

To begin, let’s review the difference between qualified nonpaid circulation and verified nonpaid circulation. The difference between the two categories is the focus on the end user. For qualified nonpaid circulation, something must be known about the recipient such as a mailing address for home delivery copies, the frequency of delivery and number of students for classroom copies or the number of current and retired employees for employee copies.

The verified nonpaid category includes copies where the end user is entirely unknown such as copies distributed at public events or public racks or those used to saturate specific ZIP codes.


Qualified Nonpaid Circulation – Home Delivery

This category of circulation has two subcategories that help explain how the circulation is targeted to the receiving audience.

Home Delivery Requested – This subcategory of qualified nonpaid circulation home delivery represents a publication’s free home delivery requested sampling program. The program must meet the following requirements:

  • Delivered to a specific address
  • Only include residential units
  • Only one copy per residential unit
  • Targeted audience must receive at least 12 weeks of service
  • Recipients must opt in to the program
  • Each issue must provide the opportunity to opt out of service
  • The news media organization must try to contact the customer via phone, email or postal mail at least once each year and provide the opportunity to opt out of service
  • Editorial content is not required, but must be a vehicle for delivering freestanding inserts
  • Print or digital service are both allowed but digital copies will only qualify if they are accessed

Home Delivery Targeted – This subcategory also represents one of news media’s sampling programs. Unlike the requested copies, there is no minimum delivery term or request requirement. The program must meet these additional requirements:

  • Delivered to a specific address
  • Only print editions qualify
  • Only include residential units
  • Only one copy per residential unit
  • If the service is more than a day, the recipient is notified of the term and frequency of the service and provided the opportunity to opt out
  • Editorial content is not required, but must be a vehicle for delivering freestanding inserts


Qualified Nonpaid Circulation – Single Copy

This type of qualified nonpaid circulation has several program components:

Educational copies – These are copies served to students in a classroom with the following requirements:

  • The classroom or school must be accredited
  • The teacher must request the copies and include the desired frequency and time period of delivery as well as the number of students in the classroom
  • The copies must be used in the classroom
  • The news media organization must collect affidavits annually
  • Only one print or digital edition may be counted per student

University Copies – These are print or digital copies made available for pickup and use by university and college students. Eligibility requirements include:

  • A request from the university or college to receive the copies
  • Copies are made available to registered students and faculty
  • For print copies, the distribution must be in a limited-access area of the campus used only by students. Additionally, the quantity claimed must be the net copies consumed for each issue.
  • For digital copies, students and faculty must register, activate or download the application to start the subscription. Only the copies accessed qualify and a unique identifier for each user must be made available for the audit.

Employee/Independent Contractor – These copies are served to current or retired employees, independent contractors or carriers, and correspondents who contribute at least one article per month. If the news media organization has multiple titles, only one copy across the portfolio may be claimed for the employee program.

Retail Business – These copies are requested by public locations such as doctors’ offices, restaurants or hospitals for use by their patrons. Copies are for reoccurring delivery and do not apply to one-time distribution or events. This category only includes print circulation.


Verified Nonpaid Circulation Types

Verified circulation is the second category of nonpaid circulation. It has four different subcategories:

Home Delivery – These are copies delivered to individual households within a defined area for which address-specific lists were not available. Delivery typically saturates an area by neighborhood, town or ZIP code.

Public Access: Delivered to Apartments – These are copies delivered to residential apartments and made easily accessible to residents.

Public Access: Events – These copies are the current issue of the newspaper distributed at an event. The quantity claimed cannot exceed event attendance.

Public Access: Racks and Other Distribution – This category includes free copies of the newspaper distributed via racks at nonresidential locations such as bus stops, grocery stores, gas stations, etc.


You can learn more about the differences between qualified and verified circulation by reading our Ask AAM article or by reviewing the full list of U.S. newspaper circulation terms and definitions in our downloadable guide.

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