One of the few apparent ‘success’ stories of publishing in the past few years has been ‘freemium’ (or, to give it the correct term ‘free’) product.
These are the mags pressed into your hands by be-anoraked minimum-wage earners as you fight your way into the tube station (sorry rest of UK, this is a London-centric post, notwithstanding the claimed distribution outside the English capital by some of the publications). There are now morning and evening newspapers, magazines for virtually every day, and seemingly new ‘tests’ of new free products every week.
A series of emails to Private Frazer’s bothy over the past week suggest that the gilt may be coming off this particular gingerbread. Obviously as these missives are anonymous they may be the product of untrustworthy bletherskites; and, because they are uncorroborated and Private Frazer has no wish to read dull letters from media owners’ legal scuddlers, the publications that they mention have to remain veiled in secrecy, but the picture they paint is one of increasing costs, reduced ad revenue, falling readership and more random distribution.
Two separate correspondents report that one of the free mags is losing up to £10K an issue and its owners have been trying to sell it for months. As “Private Pike” (probably not his real name) says:
Their model is absolutely screwed, they print 200,000+ more copies than [their competition] and the massive increase in paper prices last year, […] has bitten them exceptionally hard. Ad revenue is not coming close to covering costs anymore, so [the MD’s] answer has been to throw money at the magazine, and the investors are starting to lose patience […]. There has been a massive overspend since the new editor arrived […] the current editor is somewhat directionless […] and has lost good members of his team recently.
Good weeks when pagination was up for extra ads we’d make a profit, but not a lot. […] Issues round November last year dropped to the smallest ever, […] From what I hear things have gotten marginally better, but they’re not breaking even as production costs (mainly print/distribution) have risen sharply again. In terms of distribution hand to hand has been going down for the past three years […they] heavily rely on the recycle bins at major airports to up the circulation. Distribution may be country wide as they like to say, but nigh on nobody outside London bothers to pick it up.
Magazine publishing eh? You can’t make money when you sell the stuff, you can’t make money when you give it away for free.
As ever, more news, gossip, observations and inventions are welcomed at the usual address.