In magazine, free publications use their distribution and circulation numbers to compete with paid, subscriber-based magazines. How do you compare your advertising options? Is paid circulation better than unpaid circulation?
The Claim: "We are distributing 200,000 copies of the guide." Or, "100,000 copies will be available through grocery stores in the province." Or, "We are targeting 30,000 high-income homes in the city."
The Truth: Providing magazines free of charge, like in the claims above, is called "controlled circulation." The publisher picks an audience and sends the magazine to this group whether they want it or not. These types of publications can only make claims of distribution or circulation. They cannot claim a readership because there is no verifiable way to measure how many copies of the freebie are actually being opened and read. Prairies North is not a controlled circulation publication.
In reality, readership of a controlled circulation magazine is often remarkably lower than its distribution. There is no guarantee that the copies delivered will ever be opened and read. As an example, our own direct mail test mailings have shown a response rate between 0.5% and 1%. If it's a good campaign, we would see a 1.5% to 3% response rate.
This means that of a potential 200,000 controlled circulation copies, one can estimate at best that 3%, or 6,000 of those copies, will actually make their way into people's private reading spaces. These readers are not very committed to the publication because they picked it up on a whim. They didn't have to invest anything to get it and possibly don't know how they they ended up with a copy in their possession in the first place. They are less likely to feel any loyalty and respond to the advertisers in the publication.
At Prairies North, we print approximately 20,000 copies of each issue and nearly all of them are paid for and read. They are distributed to subscribers, newsstands, businesses through special programs, and a limited number of copies are given out at tradeshows or through other promotions:
- 11,000 subscribers pay for and receive each issue. We have a rapport with these people who put their trust in us. We deliver content to them that we know will benefit them because we appreciate every single one of them. They honour us by reading their copies cover to cover.
- Prairies North is also found on newsstands throughout western Canada. More than 5,000 copies of every issue go out to newsstands for sale and we usually sell through at 30–40%. That's another 1,500 to 2,000 copies that are paid for and read.
- Through special programs, Prairies North places magazines in the seat pouches on all Saskatchewan flights with WestWind, TransWest, Osprey Wings and Good Spirit Air Services. We are also in the hotel rooms at The Poplar Inn and Obasa Suites. This popular program increases our distribution by approximately 1,200 copies and the feedback from patrons of these businesses has been extremely positive.
- Various copies are offered through special promotions that we carry out throughout the year such as the free trial issues, buy-four-get-five campaigns. These copies are also considered paid because they are usually part of a subscription campaign.
- NEW! Prairies North is now also distributed to newcomers to Saskatchewan through the Welcome Wagons and the Newcomer Welcome Centres. Approximately 2,000 copies of each issue go out in welcome packages to these new arrivals.
Prairies North is audited by an independent circulation bureau. The bureau verifies that we distribute our magazine just as we say we do. Our numbers are transparent.
Readers also share their magazines with friends and family. We use statistical research from Magazines Canada and elsewhere to estimate the number of readers per copy to determine our readership. Prairies North is often found in waiting rooms and other places where people are looking to pass some time reading. We estimate that on average 5.4 people read each copy of Prairies North based on readership statistics from Magazines Canada. In fact, our genre of magazine is usually a favourite and shared with closer to 7 people on average.
If 11,000 loyal subscribers read their magazine and then share it with 7 friends and family members, that means that we are reaching, on average 77,000 readers through our subscribers each issue. The additional paid copies sold on newsstands and those distributed through special programs and through our subscription campaigns increase that number by at least 30,000 (the copies on the airlines are read by up to 20 people per issue.) Thus, we make a claim of reaching approximately 100,000 readers and we can stand behind this number.
Controlled circulation publications have a difficult time making a claim to readership because there are only very loose measurements of how many people read it. They can only offer a distribution, not an audience. They are not audited.
So, consider readership versus distribution when you are deciding how to spend your advertising dollars. Just looking at the bulk numbers isn't enough. See past them and think about the quality of that reader. Only one magazine in Saskatchewan can guarantee its readership—Prairies North.
Call or email one of our Advertising Consultants today and start planning your campaign:
Charlotte L'Oste Brown, Regina and southern region, (306) 625-7976
Velvet Cable, Saskatoon and northern region, (306) 667-4005