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Succeeding in the Free Market

In recent years, there has been a surge in the launch of free titles. Having worked in the free distribution sector for thirteen years, Global Media Hub’s Stephanie Hyde is well placed to know what works and what doesn’t in the free distribution market.

There is one area of print publishing that is booming – welcome to the free sector!

Last autumn saw two high profile new arrivals. Dennis Publishing launched Coach, a new health, fitness and wellbeing magazine for men, and Time Inc UK relaunched iconic music magazine NME.

Both these launches have proved very successful. Each one, despite using the same freemium model, had very different distribution strategies and goals. ‘Free’ is not a one size fits all solution any more than ‘newsstand’ or ‘subscriptions’ are. It is much more than just sticking someone in a brightly coloured tabard outside Oxford Circus tube.

Global Media Hub, a company formed last April to provide bespoke distribution solutions and strategies for publishers, worked on both launches.

From my experience with these, and other launches, I think there are seven key components for success in the free sector:

1. Define your target audience

This is the first step with any launch, in any sector. Define, as tightly as possible, who you expect to read the title; age, sex, location, income, interests and any other demographic information you can glean to build a clear profile of your reader.

2. Work out where they’ll be and when

Calculate where the highest concentration of your target market will be and when they’ll be there. Think laterally and be imaginative. You might have a pre-conceived idea of where free distribution activity takes place, and the chances are that you’ll be surprised by the range of options a good distributor can provide. My advice is, talk to us as early as possible in the planning process.

3. Choose the right distributor

The choice of distributor can make or break the whole project, so choose carefully. How many routes to market can they offer? How experienced is their account management team? What is their client base and how relevant is it to your situation?

At Global Media Hub, we have a strong track record of working with publishers. We have invested heavily in setting up our own valuable routes to market, like our merchandised racks at top corporate venues, luxury apartments, cruise ship terminals, private health facilities and universities. We have also recently invested in our own network of liveried vans and drivers so we have more control of our distribution.

4. Ensure credible reporting

By definition, the free market is ad funded, so credible and transparent circulation reporting is absolutely essential. We are ABC accredited, and I would suggest that this is a minimum requirement for any distributor. The ABC audits our distribution systems and paperwork in-depth and, coupled with the venue checks they run, this gives our publisher clients (and their advertising clients!) the peace of mind of knowing that there is full compliance throughout. We are also associate members of the BPA, another audit body used by some of our clients.

5. Review, learn, adapt… and repeat

Try to build in a process of continual improvement through post activity reporting and review. Meet regularly with your distributor to refine your strategy, to plug gaps and to take advantage of new opportunities as they arise. We’ve designed a post-activity reporting template whereby we supply both photos and detailed feedback of activity undertaken, including recommendations for distribution changes. Circulation planning is never done – it has to continuously evolve.

6. Support your ad team!

Ultimately, your free title will sink or swim on the success of your commercial teams, so they need all the support you can give them. They need to be fully au fait with the distribution plan so that they can effectively sell the concept. A good distributor will work closely with you to educate the advertising team on the full detail of the distribution plan including the science behind the original selection of venues, the allocations, the venue demographics/footfall, whilst highlighting the key USPs of the strategy.

7. Support your free title

Getting the distribution plan right, crucial though it is, is only part of the story. You need to build awareness of the title through marketing, social media and promotions – using all the channels and expertise at your disposal to create a buzz around your magazine.

Each title will have different objectives and priorities and the distributor should work closely with the publisher to build the perfect distribution plan for their title. With over 200 free publications within the UK alone, effective distribution is vital in order for a title to remain competitive in an increasingly crowded marketplace.

“You might have a pre-conceived idea of where free distribution activity takes place, and the chances are that you’ll be surprised by the range of options a good distributor can provide.”

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