We've done a lot of work with free printed media products around the world, it's an area we've worked both client and agency side on, for newspapers and magazines.
It's a business proposition we've found fascinating for a number of years now, particularly the difficult balancing act of product quality, distribution effectiveness and advertising yields. Get it right and build a monopoly or duopoly market and you can create a good revenue stream. Get sucked into a 3 or 4 player market, and watch the cash burn at a rapid rate.
Leaving the bloodbath of free London afternoon newspapers to one side for now, here's an observation on men's mags. Last year saw Sport successfully launch in London, with a high quality product targeted at a specific gender and demographic. 13 months on, it's in good shape, which is to be applauded.
ShortList is a recent entry into the same space, distributed on Thursdays, with the tagline: "Free for men! Movies, news, sport, TV, Cars, Style". Issue 5 is out today, with lads favourite Jeremy "He's got opinions and he's not afraid to use them" Clarkson looming large on the cover (not that JC ever looms "small" anywhere, his paunch on a 42" widescreen TV is quite alarming).
There's rarely much warmth and congratulations flying around the London media world, but Shortlist should be in line for some. Obviously pulled together by people who understand their target audience well, with good quality content, it's an exciting and welcome addition to the media landscape. They've got the product right almost from the off. Now it's down to effective distribution and a good advertising yield to cement its position.
The free London magazine market is well served if you are a bloke, but will anyone take the plunge and take one of the declining national paid for womens' magazine brands, and spin off a free weekly women's mag? Will be interesting to see if anyone is willing to take the plunge, innovate, and grow a whole new market.
Free is here to stay, and it's only going to get bigger.