THE launch of the Hong Kong Audit Bureau of Circulations chapter (HKABC) is confirmed for next month, but there are still doubts about its ability to provide the publishing industry with a standard. 'HKABC will actively promote the cause of circulation auditing in Hong Kong to protect the common interest of both the buying side and the selling side of advertising in the print media,' said Anthony Lau, HKABC founding chairman. Mr Lau was speaking at a press conference called to officially announce the establishment of the HKABC. Until now, publishers could deal only with the UKABC. Of the hundreds of publications in Hong Kong, fewer than 60 carry the stamp confirming their circulation figures are ABC audited. Many media buyers and sellers - advertisers and publishers - have called for a 'level playing field'. The Society of Hong Kong Publishers has led the call for an industry standard which the HKABC is expected to provide. But many publishers provide circulation figures based on print run rather than sales. Others have said privately that their rivals refused ABC audits to artificially lift their circulation figures and save advertising revenue and will still not commit to HKABC scrutiny. The ABC stamp indicates that a publisher's circulation claims have been checked annually and confirmed by auditors from the 60-year-old non-profit-making UKABC. Saatchi & Saatchi's Hong Kong media director, T. S. Chan, said that, with the opening of the Hong Kong chapter, there should be no excuse for avoiding ABC auditing. He told the Society of Hong Kong Publishers before the announcement he hoped publishers would not rely only on independent chartered accountants. Mr Lau said by accepting circulation auditing as the common standard, the publishing industry 'will create an environment for fair competition among publications'. 'This is especially important amid a proliferation of publications competing for limited advertising dollars,' he said. John Beadell, chief executive of UKABC, promised full support to the new chapter. 'We should question any title not audited properly,' he said. 'The message is clear: No ABC, no guarantee. In Hong Kong, I hope advertisers will help us by delivering a similar message to media sellers. No guarantee, no space from me.' Matthew Margetts, senior advertising executive of publisher China Media, is trying to promote the idea of ABC audits but said many buyers still chose space based only on circulation figures, irrespective of their accuracy. 'I've tried explaining the meaning of an ABC figure to buyers . . . but often it just doesn't make any difference,' he said. Lina Ross, associate publisher and editor-in-chief of Communications Management in Hong Kong, refused to commit her publications to the HKABC. 'We will certainly consider ABC when it is up and running here but dealing through London is too expensive and time-consuming,' she said. Ms Ross said she had recently commissioned an independent circulation audit for HK Tatler and Eve magazines and planned to repeat this every six months. Under the new arrangement, UKABC auditors will still come to Hong Kong at least twice a year to carry out the audits, but HKABC will administer and market the service. All current and future ABC subscribers publishing in Hong Kong will automatically become HKABC and UKABC members. Typical annual costs for a publication will be about $25,000. New members must also pay a joining fee.