Methods on increasing perceived value of free publications?
November 4, 2016 7:32 PM   Subscribe

Keeping in mind that the content will be top quality, what are some clever methods on increasing the perceived value of a magazine that is distributed for free? I am worried that it's like "polishing the brass on the Titanic" so to speak, as magazines and newspapers are dying a slow death anyway--but I want to take my chances in the hopes that it would pave the way to other online projects.

Just some information that might help my case: The magazine will have a presence on social media as well. It is targeting a specific immigrant community but will integrate an English counterpart in the future. It is currently distributed in NY but will spread to Canada (Toronto, Montreal) and California as well.
posted by omar.a to Media & Arts (10 answers total)
Value to advertisers or value to readers?
posted by warriorqueen at 7:37 PM on November 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'll just ramble advertisers a niche cultural market can be very valuable, especially if you can identify businesses with products geared specifically towards that community. So you may have that value already if you can demonstrate that your distribution channels are working and you can demonstrate your audience through some kind of legit metrics.

To go to paid from free one of the most important things is to have a good database, so you may want to think about how to get your readers engaged enough to give you their personal information (in Toronto you'll have to follow CASL rules; don't know about the US, so you have to have legit reason to gather addresses.)
posted by warriorqueen at 7:50 PM on November 4, 2016

Thank you for your replies. I failed to mention that I care more about the readership at this point. Of course tips on targeting advertisers is immensely valuable as well.
posted by omar.a at 8:18 PM on November 4, 2016

Also, what could be potentially untapped distribution channels? As of yet it is distributed in grocery shops, real estate offices, and coffee shops--not exactly perceived as purveyors of quality journalism publications--which further complicates things.
posted by omar.a at 8:21 PM on November 4, 2016

Also, what could be potentially untapped distribution channels?
The Home Hardware here has a newspaper-vending-machine type thing near its exit and carries the local free publication.
I'd suggest cold-calling every highly trafficked area and seeing if they'd be able to distribute.
What about Stadiums, Gyms and theaters?

For the English language one add a decent crossword and people will get hooked.
posted by FallowKing at 9:13 PM on November 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Is this a print publication? If so, quality (120-170 gsm) paper with a matte, heavier weight cover and perfect rather than saddle binding all smack of high value.
posted by freya_lamb at 12:47 AM on November 5, 2016 [6 favorites]

Also, what could be potentially untapped distribution channels? As of yet it is distributed in grocery shops, real estate offices, and coffee shops--not exactly perceived as purveyors of quality journalism publications

Well, I'd disagree about coffee shops. Those are perfect places for free pubs to be distributed. Agree about real estate offices, though.

I actually do ads for a couple of free area free pubs. Once, a tabloid-size newspaper and the the other a more glossy saddle-stitched magazine. Don't discount (or segregate) your concern for the advertisers from your concern for distribution. They are often one-in-the-same. The ethnic bakery you sell ad space to, may well be very happy to let you drop a stack of pubs off at their shop. The same with the chiropractor who places an 1/8-page ad with you. Or, the local ethnic market. Bars and pubs, too And, as your publication gets seen in more places, your readership will grow. It's a ton of legwork, believe me.

You definitely need to know your target readership and the places they go and frequent. That will give you a god start on who your target advertisers are. Also, pay attention to any local events or community celebrations you could cover and do big splashy photo-laden stories of, making sure everyone there knows you are with X-publication. Maybe even carry back issue to hand-out. Or, heck, have a small booth.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:07 AM on November 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also, don't shy away from covering (and advocating for) issues that are important to your target audience, including political ones. You might be very surprised how open to an interview with you the mayor might be if they know you're setting yourself up as a voice in a certain community.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:12 AM on November 5, 2016

For distribution, definitely look into clubs and other organizations that serve your target market. (My yacht club has stacks of two (2) different free magazines.)

For value, nothing works like information not found elsewhere. Back in the day, I lived in a town where all the room-for-let and mower-for-sale ads were in a free magazine/newspaper.
posted by SemiSalt at 8:28 AM on November 5, 2016

If you get enough ads that you can support top-quality writing, editing, paper, and printing, that's a good way to improve your perceived (and actual) value. Also, be sure you have clear ad guidelines and enforce them (and help build better ads for people who want to meet your guidelines but don't have dedicated ad staff of their own). Your design and layouts should have all those elements that "make it look like a magazine," e.g., folios with page numbers and the publication name and/or website; sections with names; a masthead listing your staff and contributors, copyright and distribution info; bylines and photo credits; a unified design and editorial style; etc.

You may not be vying for a membership currently, but look at the guidelines for national magazine associations' members, e.g., don't allow dashed lines with little scissors around "coupon-style" ads, especially don't allow coupon ads on the covers, etc. Put together a media kit/advertisers' guide with these sorts of guidelines, prefaced by a section including stats regarding your publication's audience, reach, and distribution. Make this available in PDF on your publication's website and have some copies nicely printed as well. Look at what paid (i.e., those with a cover price) regional publications are doing. And talk to various printers. There's generally a minimum page count you have to meet to be able to use perfect binding, rather than saddle-stitched, so find out what that is.

And see if there's any trade you can do with the printer or others in the community, e.g., helping design some publications they will print for other customers in exchange for a discount, bundling that with your publication, etc.

That's just some stuff off the top of my head!
posted by limeonaire at 10:31 AM on November 5, 2016

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