Friday, February 29, 2008

British mag dares to be different by moving from paid to free

There have been examples of controlled circulation magazines going paid in Canada -- Homemaker's a number of years ago was a good example. While controlled circulation could be said to have almost been invented and perfected here, we rarely see things going the other way (that is, from paid to free).

A British magazine for women called Dare, launched 18 months ago carrying a $1 cover price and tied to the drugstore chain Superdrug has converted to free and vastly increased distribution. According to a story in Media Life, where once Dare had a circulation of 271,000, it now gives away 750,000 in train and tube stations as well as continuing to give it away in store. The magazine behaves like a custom publication and carries brand ads from companies that supply Superdrug and clearly its goal is to drive traffic to the stores rather than to follow the traditional consumer publishing model.

This has happened as two of the most successful recent launches for men are also free and have quickly come to dominate the category. Sport, a British reworking of a successful French concept launched in 2006 as a weekly and distributes 317,209 copies each week in London on Friday mornings. ShortList started distributing 500,000 free copies in London and five other cities last September. They have become the two largest circulation men's titles in the country.

"For those that say men are moving away from magazines and going online, this shows the opposite,” says Mike Soutar, ShortList's founder and a former editorial director at IPC, a major UK publishing house. “If you get the content right, men’s magazines have never been more engaging. There has never been a greater number of men’s magazines read than today.”

Part of the reason why these giveaways work well is the highly developed and highly concentrated public transport network (trains and Underground) in Britain. Hundreds of thousands of copies can be handed out in just a few hours as commuters pour into major cities, particularly London.

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