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Why advertise in a free-zine?

Traditionally we were taught to believe that you get what you pay for. This has been turned on its head recently and savvy advertisers are realising that sometimes free equals high quality content read by a targeted, engaged audience.
In the previous article in this two-part series, we looked at what exactly a free-zine is. Now we'll look at why advertisers are paying attention to this medium, thanks to it offering a low-barrier to entry to a targeted, niche audience.

First let's dispel some myths.

1. Doesn't free equal cheap/low value/poor quality?

Not in this case. Take a publication such as BPM Mag. It is printed on quality paper, to high standards, which it consistently maintains.

Inside the magazine the content is cutting-edge, well-respected and leading its field. It brings the latest international trends to South Africa before anyone else, raises issues pertinent to the South African music industry and provides relevant and informed technical information to readers.

In terms of the value to readers, because of the ultra-niche nature of free-zines, typically the value per reader is far higher than general publications. For instance, a consumer column in Tabletalk or the Randburg Sun will refer to a customer and a business in Tableview or Randburg respectively, and so be of more relevance and interest to the reader than a one-size fits all example.

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Likewise, a technical review of music equipment in BPM Mag will appeal to the majority of its readers, and not just a small sub-set.

2. Why should you advertise in a free-zine?

As explained above, free-zines attract a far higher value per reader than many other publications, thanks to the fact that they are ultra-niched. Because the readers have shared interest, whether it is the suburb they live in, their taste in music, or choice of coffee shop, it is far easier to target your advertising to a specific audience with a pre-identified interest in your product.

The free-zine concept also builds a far greater sense of community among readers due to the nature of the niche it addresses, which generally translates into a far higher trust and acceptance factor from its reader-base.

In addition, there is a range of other reasons to advertise in a free-zine:

  • Up to 98% of the magazines are collected and read - in fact, many readers even ask the distributing outlets ahead of time when the next edition will be available.
  • Distribution outlets are chosen carefully to appeal to the reader community, in order to reach as many possible potential readers.
  • The bulk of the copies are claimed within two weeks of release.
  • Free-zines see almost no returned copies - especially in tougher economic times. No cover price means no barrier to entry for your community.
  • Readers don't pay a premium to read about your products.
  • Free-zines reach more readers as they are more likely to be passed on: the 14 000 copies of BPM Mag get read by up to 40 000 readers.
  • This also means they stay in circulation for longer.
  • The free nature of the free-zines appeals to a target audience that has grown up with the Internet, and typically otherwise may consume most of their advertising online.

3. Surely free-zines are suffering in the current economic climate?

Quite the contrary. Yes, it is true that companies are cutting their advertising spend, and we have seen a number of paid for publications contract over the last few months. But, what is happening is that the advertising budget available is being made to work harder for a living. One way to make your ad budget go further is to focus your message as narrowly as possible to reach your key target markets.

Ultra-niche publications bring this focus, as well as a high penetration rate into these key audiences. So, in fact, many free-zines have benefitted from the current conditions.

This is a great opportunity for free distribution publications to prove the concept to advertisers who haven't considered the medium and for them to become an important part of the advertising mix going forward.
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About the author

As well as being an accomplished DJ and music producer, Dave Mac is the managing editor of BPM Mag (www.bpmmag.co.za) and Muse Magazine (www.museonline.co.za). The publications were born out of a desire to promote the independent music world in South Africa. Fourteen thousand copies of BPM and 14 000 copies of Muse are distributed free in all major cities on a bi-monthly basis. Email Dave on .