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Assumptions and data for The BMJ were incorrect

Posted by trished on 14 Jan 2014 at 17:11 GMT

Dear Navindra Persaud and colleagues
You ask an interesting question. [1] Unfortunately in relation to The BMJ, your assumptions and estimates are incorrect. The actual figures for revenue and circulation are given below. We would happily have shared these, as we have done when asked for our reprint revenues in the past, [2] but we were unaware of any request from you.

From these figures you will see that our revenues from display advertising are significantly greater than your estimate. As for subscriptions, we have very few individual paying subscribers - 2799 in total in 2013. Almost all of our subscription revenue comes from institutions internationally.

For individuals in the UK we have a controlled circulation model with copies of the print journal going to all BMA members in three editions: for GPs, hospital doctors, and retired members. These editions are editorially identical but carry different advertisements. The journal receives no money from the BMA. All profits from the journal and its sister products go to the BMA to support its membership and professional activities or are reinvested by BMJ.

The BMA's annual representative meeting has in the past debated whether The BMJ should stop carrying display advertisements but has so far decided against such a move. This is a decision that we as editors fully support.[3] We see advertising, combined with our other revenue streams, as crucial to the journal's independence. We would not wish to have to ask the BMA or its members for financial support.

We aim to achieve wide readership in the UK and internationally. This is a better measure of value than circulation, for editors and advertisers alike. We also aim to ensure that all advertising in the journal is legal, decent and honest, and we are cheered by recent evidence that the UK's Advertising Standards Authority is upholding these standards.[4]. Advertising has no influence on editorial decisions - there is complete separation between the editorial team and the advertising sales team - and we are confident that readers are easily able to distinguish the advertisements from the editorial content.

There will be some readers who would prefer a journal free from advertising and would be willing to pay for this. But we would encourage them to recognise that advertising allows investment in the journal and supports editorial independence.

Here are the correct figures from The BMJ. These give the current picture and are not absolutely comparable with the study’s data from other journals (given that the authors estimated revenue for each year from 2007 to 2012).

Total circulation and display advertising revenue for all UK print editions of The BMJ as of 31.12.13

Revenue from display advertising:

Total UK circulation of the print BMJ:

Fiona Godlee, Editor-in-chief, BMJ
Trish Groves, Head of research, the BMJ

1. Gettings J, O'Neill B, Chokshi DA, Colbert JA, Gill P, et al. (2014) Differences in the Volume of Pharmaceutical Advertisements between Print General Medical Journals. PLoS ONE 9(1): e84790. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0084790

2. Handel AE ,Patel SV ,Pakpoor J ,Ebers GC ,Goldacre B ,Ramagopalan SV. High reprint orders in medical journals and pharmaceutical industry funding: case-control study. BMJ 2012;344:e4212

3. Smith R. Head to head: Should medical journals carry drug advertising? Yes. BMJ 2007; 335 doi:

4. Cohen D. Sports drinks adverts are banned for false claims. BMJ 2014;348:g136

Competing interests declared: Fiona Godlee is Editor in Chief, BMJ. Trish Groves is editor in chief of BMJ Open and Head of Research at The BMJ. BMJ (the company) is a wholly owned subsidiary of the BMA.
BMJ receives revenues from drug & device manufacturers through advertising, reprint sales, & sponsorship.
FG and TG each receive a bonus based partly on the financial performance of The BMJ.

Estimates and conclusions valid

navpersaud replied to trished on 16 Jan 2014 at 18:24 GMT

We showed that small increases in the amount paid by readers of general medical journals could offset the revenue lost if ads were no longer displayed.

Our estimate of the amount each recipient of the print BMJ would have to pay in order to make the BMJ ad free (£17 per year) was quite similar to the figure based on the actual revenue statistics that have now been provided by the BMJ (£21 per year). The inclusion of the GP edition (which contains more ads) in the figures provided by the BMJ likely accounts for the small discrepancy.

We support the efforts of the BMJ to promote transparency in medicine and we hope that other journals will follow the BMJ and declare their revenue from pharmaceutical advertisements. This information will allow readers to make informed decisions about whether they prefer journals with or without ads.

We believe that the BMJ is worth much more than £21 per year.

Nav Persaud for Jennifer Gettings, Braden O'Neill, Dave Chokshi, James Colbert, Peter Gill, Gerald Lebovic, and Joel Lexchin

Competing interests declared: NP is an associate editor of the CMAJ.