Free Pubs: A Rising Threat to Regional Magazines
To quote Neil Diamond, ”Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation show/back up the babies and grab the old ladies and everyone goes.”
When any regional publisher gets asked about competition, it is assumed, “Well, you have none right”? Usually this is because only one subscription-based regional lifestyle publication can exist in most markets.
I guess the politically correct response I have repeated ad nauseum is something about how in this age of media convergence, everyone is competition.
But the truth is, most regional publishers, in response to that question, would escort you to the local supermarkets, wine stores, and places where in the entry/exist vestibules, racks of free publications seem to multiply on a daily basis.
“That is my biggest competition.”
I have no axe to grind with the majority of free pubs in these racks: local boating news, pet care, and penny savers are of merit and value for what they deliver.
Those which cross the line are the ones that pose as the legitimate lifestyle publication of record for a region.
Often at such publications, the wall between church and state (advertising and editorial) crumbled like the Berlin Wall decades ago. I know firsthand that many are trained to sell against the regional publication, totally based on cost comparison.
One restaurateur once told me, “The sales person from the free distribution publication came in and held up his current copy and points to the full page ad on coated paper, four color and said, 'See this? With us it’s only $800.00. With them it's like $3000.' Crazy, huh?”
The majority of small businesses many of us deal with are cost conscious. They practice “checkbook marketing,” which means that when they have it, they advertise. When they don’t, it’s self-evident.
These unscrupulous competitors prey upon the price question without explaining the differential in audience, subscription bases, ASME standards, and more.
Often when I query an advertiser about their decision to invest their dollars in a free publication, their first answer is that it was so cheap to do. I always follow with a series of questions like, “Who reads it? What kind of home do they live in? How often do they dine out, engage in philanthropic activity, and what kind of car they drive?” Usually they respond with a mumbled, “I dunno,” which prompts a very appropriate “you get what you paid for” analogy.
So, the scarlet letter the legitimate regional publication gets to wear is a price sign. The sad part is, so many are unaware of how they are misspending their precious, too-lean ad budgets, and apparently do not care.