For a vendor, showing up on the top of an industry rankings is a big deal, a signal to clients and potential clients that a company has heft, prestige, and market clout.

So it is with particular zeal that vendors of automated teller machines and cash dispensers debate the merits of the most prominent rankings in their industry, which run annually in The Nilson Report, a biweekly newsletter in Oxnard, Calif., that covers the cards business. Every year ATM executives tend to dispute the newsletter’s results and ranking criteria with the same eagerness with which they read them.

The Nilson Report ranks ATM makers by the number of units they ship, but everyone seems to have a “better idea” on the best way to compare manufacturers.

“Are shipments really the right metric for that? My metric is revenue and not shipments,” said Ken C. Justice, director of market intelligence and global marketing at Diebold Inc. “You need to look beyond the hardware itself to the software and the service revenue. We get a huge amount of money off of the service, whether it would be for routine maintenance on the ATM or managed services,” such as monitoring the network.

Neither Diebold nor NCR Corp., the two largest manufacturers, share their numbers directly with The Nilson Report.

David Robertson, president of The Nilson Report, said the numbers he prints about Diebold and NCR are derived from regional patterns, press releases, and information given during investor calls.

“Those were shipments to distributors — what leaves the factory,” Mr. Robertson said. “But you never know how many get to the end player. There are an unknown number of units sitting in distribution centers worldwide for all manufacturers.”

This year the problem of idle units became particularly pronounced because of payment defaults by Credit Card Center, a now-bankrupt Philadelphia ATM distributor that failed to pay NCR and Tidel Technologies Inc. for machines it bought and intended to distribute. Some of the machines are sitting in warehouses, but the fact that they are not deployed was not reflected in The Nilson Report totals published last month.

NCR said that it sent 5,400 ATMs to Credit Card Center and 2,100 remain undeployed. Ann All, editor of ATM Marketplace.com, said this shows that The Nilson Report’s numbers are “very skewed,” and she suggested a better way to measure ATM distribution would be to count the machines that are bought, paid for, and installed.

Industry insiders see a handful of reasons why some manufacturers prefer not to share their numbers with publications — including an effort to keep the competition guessing and a suspicion that some of the published figures are inflated.

“There’s no verification at all,” Mr. Justice said. “Everyone is operating on the honor system.”

“Everyone is on the honor system,” Mr. Robertson agreed. “For years the industry used us as a conduit to measure its growth. Diebold was an active participant until two seasons ago, and at that time they did not suggest that anyone was inflating.”

Though Diebold came in first on The Nilson Report’s U.S. list, “their market share has fallen precipitously,” Mr. Robertson said. “First, NCR came along and put a dent into their full-service ATM business. Then the smaller guys came out of nowhere and saw the market for these off-premises terminals before either Diebold or NCR realized how big the market was going to be and cornered the market.”

Diebold stopped giving detailed figures to The Nilson Report last year, and this year it gave no numbers at all. The company said it did this because it had a number of concerns, particularly over whether shipments were a proper way to measure the market.

NCR stopped giving data to the newsletter last year, but it did not dispute the publication’s rankings. Rob Evans, marketing director for NCR, said the actual numbers for his company were just slightly higher than the ones printed in The Nilson Report.

ATM & Debit News, a newsletter owned by Thomson Financial Media, the parent company of American Banker, also tracks ATM shipments in the United States (but not worldwide), and its numbers are similar to those in The Nilson Report.

David Gosnell, senior editor of ATM & Debit News, said his publication’s numbers — except those for Diebold — came from the companies themselves. Its rankings of the top three companies were the same as The Nilson Report’s, but its numbers differed by several hundred in a few instances.

ATM makers still expect growth this year in the off-premises market, and they said they expect that banks will buy more machines, especially those with Internet technology and other modern features.

Mr. Evans said the North American bank market is less saturated than it might appear. “While the number of bank charters is decreasing because of mergers and acquisitions, the number of bank offices has been creeping up. Some banks are deploying their full-function ATMs as their branch.”

Both NCR and Diebold said the replacement market will be healthy this year, partly because of the new security standard for transactions known as Triple DES (Data Encryption Standard), to which MasterCard and Visa are requiring new ATMs to conform. Also, many banks have begun adding ATMs that are accessible to blind people.

Brian Kett, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Triton Systems, a maker of cash dispensers, said his company is looking for growth internationally but still sees opportunities in the U.S. market.

“As you get into lower-cost units and lower cost of ownership — meaning that the number of transactions required to support an ATM continues to drop each year — it allows for growth into market segments that previously couldn’t support an ATM,” he said.

Tidel said it plans to regain the distribution channels it lost when Credit Card Center stopped paying this year. “Credit Card Center represented 70% of our total sales in the quarter ended Dec. 31,” said Leonard Carr, senior vice president of Tidel. “We are working aggressively to rebuild distribution.”

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