With b-to-b publishers facing significant ad revenue declines and a beat-up economy that continues to make forecasting difficult, BPA Worldwide’s board of directors has unanimously agreed to freeze audit rates and dues at July 2008 levels.

BPA’s phones began "ringing off the hook" early this year, said the audit firm’s president and CEO Glenn Hansen. "As those calls started coming in we were very sensitive to that as we put our budget together in January," he said.

The freeze remains in effect until June 30, 2010—the end of BPA’s current fiscal year.

While BPA’s consumer counterpart, ABC, has effectively frozen dues and rates for its newspaper and magazine members since 2007, Hansen said this is the first time as president that he’s had to institute a rate freeze. "I’ve always been an advocate of raising dues and rates—at low percentages—each year, but this is the first time we’re not going to in the 10 years I’ve been president."

Hansen added that historically, under previous leadership, dues and audit rate freezes have been followed by "huge" increases the following fiscal year. While there’s potential to hike rates in 2010, they won’t have to be dramatic because, said Hansen, of the way BPA is managing its costs this year.

The rate-freeze can be interpreted as both an effort to help publishers save costs and keep BPA’s membership active. There’s been story after story of publishers making significant cuts, and it’s not hard to imagine that audits are toward the top of the list.

Combine that with an increasingly complicated product platform mix that has some publishers arguing for greater flexibility in auditing metrics, and others implementing audits only when a competitive scenario dictates and you have unprecedented pressure placed on the audit market.

Questex Media, a large b-to-b publisher, left BPA in April for "nimbler" Verified Audit Circulation seeking a more flexible audit process. UBM’s TechInsights group left late last year to create its own in-house reporting system. And PennWell is now working with BPA on a brand audit report prototype, called Brand Reach Audit Report, to go beyond even its current integrated media report services.

In the meantime, BPA is touting its free Web measurement audit as an added value. "We continue to add more of our members into the BPA-Nielsen measurment tool, which is no additional cost," said Hansen, who added that 22 percent of members are currently using the service.

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