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Taking Time Out (for free)

The plight of print media in Britain, and most of the developed world, is no news to anyone, though the steps many more robust titles are taking in order to try and ensure their continued existence make for rather interesting reading. At least this is true when you’re looking at things from a marketing, public relations, and communications perspective, anyway.
Today the latest endeavour was announced, as London what’s on guide Time Out, originally launched in 1968, declared it will soon be free to pick up. That may not sound like a big deal, but scratching beneath the surface reveals this is more significant than some would believe. After all, it was only a few years ago that the very same magazine had designs on opening a northern edition in our own hometown of Manchester- expansion that can only result from confidence that people will buy the product. Evidently this isn’t  the case anymore.
The idea of doing away with the cover price is to increase circulation to a rather staggering 300,000 per issue, at which point the value of advertising in the publication would be high enough to meet all running costs. But take a look at the recent-ish decision by regional newspaper publisher Johnston Press to turn former cost-free titles into paid for weeklies, and obviously the situation is not so simple- there’s no guarantee anyone will advertise, or pick up a copy. Observe the magazine industry in Manchester, wherein innumerable titles have failed to set up complementary publications funded by advertisers, for examples of why relying on selling commercial page space can be disastrous.
Of course things are rather different in this instance. London is enormous, with a huge population, and Time Out’s brand is one of the strongest of its kind in the world, with editions being distributed in many of the planet’s major cities. There’s also a loyal readership already, and, let’s face it, the overwhelming amount of entertainment journalism online is beginning to have a negative effect, with people increasingly looking for trusted sources when it comes to making decisions about how to spend free time and money. All of which means the publication is in as good a position as any other, ever, in the context of taking such a bold risk, though with the rest of the industry still giving mixed signals as to the best course of action it’s anyone’s guess how this particular attempt to plug the falling circulation hole will pan out.

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