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Free Distribution and the art of keeping costs low and efficiencies high

Cost-effective and tightly targeted distribution is the cornerstone of a profitable free magazine. Magazine Heroes' Dan Collins has five tips for how publishers can achieve success with free distribution.

By Dan Collins

Free Distribution and the art of keeping costs low and efficiencies high

With fuel prices high and costs going up, it is now more important than ever to ensure that any free product distribution is as cost effective and efficient as possible. Below are my top five tips to help your budget and readership go further:

1. Know your target market

Before working out any kind of free distribution, you really need to know and understand your target market. Who do you want to read your magazine? Who do your advertisers expect are reading the magazine? It really is vital and often overlooked. Something that seems so simple yet is missed. If you don’t know your target market, how can we find them? Once we establish the facts, we can build up a knowledge of where they go, where they live, how they consume media, which enables much more efficient planning.

2. Is your distribution method right?

Just because something is free, it is not always the case that people are going to want it – there are various distribution methods from direct mail and door drops to supermarket pick up and on-street sampling – each distribution method should suit the magazine and its core audience. The art of being efficient is not only knowing your audience, but matching their preferences to your distribution model, so as to be as targeted as possible.

3. Start small – aim high

Once you have put points 1 and 2 in place, you really need to test the assumptions and theories. If you can start with small volumes in various distribution channels - to see which gains the most traction, not just from the readers but from the advertisers too - you can then alter the mix to suit your budget, your advertisers and reader requests, then slowly scale up when you see that it is working. Don’t spend all your money on a hunch. It is important to use a mix of suppliers at first – putting all your eggs in one basket could be a costly mistake further down the line.

4. Optimise your print volume

Whether you give out by door drop, mail or via brand to hand, the amount that you print and where you distribute can often save you money and we’re not talking about printing less – we’re saying print more!! A discount you can get with a mail sort provider for posting 10k extra may make it far more efficient to post more. Royal Mail often give volume related discounts too, especially when posting within confined areas and similar savings can also be achieved with a door drop promotion, provided that you keep the areas that you distribute to close to each other – this price variance can help you optimise your print! With a hand distribution operation supplying more of each issue, to busier areas, this can mean you are distributing many more copies for the same cost. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for the discount as many companies may drop prices for volume and frequency!

5. Pre-plan with distribution in mind

One common misconception is that a free product is easy to distribute. There are real costs within distribution and, yes, whilst a few partners may stock your magazine for free – this is not the norm and can’t give a product the volume that it would need to survive. You should still treat the product as if you were going to sell it and the distribution should be planned in right from conception. Factors that could affect distribution costs could be issues such as paper weight, bundle size and product dimensions. A slight tweak could mean a different postal rate or an extra few bundles on a van; this is regularly overlooked in pre-planning.

Distribution is often the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle when putting together a free magazine – however the costs associated with it are crucial to the bottom line. It is important to integrate distribution into the full production process in order to keep costs as low as possible and efficiency high.

About us

Dan Collins launched Magazine Heroes in 2015 after many years working in the media industry as a marketing and circulation director. He has worked on many brand campaigns and events and launched magazines across the globe. Magazine Heroes can consult with you to help maximise your circulation.

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