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The Rise and Rise of Free Publications (December 27, 2005)

Some of the free magazines available in Tokyo
Free newspapers and magazines have rapidly evolved into one of the most exciting subsectors of the publishing industry, with the annual circulation of free publications currently standing at more than 200 million. With many free publications targeted at specific groups, they are being eyed by businesses as a new advertising medium. In a bid to attract more readers, an increasing number of these papers and magazines are carrying articles of a surprisingly high quality - defying the old maxim that "you get what you pay for." Their rising standards have made them into a formidable rival to paid publications.

Rising Circulation
In October 2005 Japan's largest festival of free publications was held in the Otemachi district of Tokyo. About 350 titles from around the country were on display, covering a wide array of subjects. Some carried the traditional content of free publications, such as information on dining out, classified ads, and local news, while others dealt with a specific theme, such as golf, soccer, or pets, or were targeted at a specific age or other group, including foreign residents.

In the revised 2003 edition of Zenkoku Furi Pepa Gaido (Nationwide Guide to Free Papers), the Japan Free Newspapers Association states that 1,156 free newspapers and magazines were published in 2003, and their combined circulation exceeded 220 million.

What accounts for the rapid growth of this market? Until now, income from sales and advertising constituted the main revenue sources for publishing firms. But with people reading less and using the Internet more as a source of free information, income from sales of paid newspapers, magazines, and books has been on the decline.

This very environment, however, has proved ideal for free newspapers and magazines. As sales income is not part of their business plans, they can focus on maximizing advertising revenue by distributing their publications to as many readers as possible.

High Quality Reading Matter
In just over a year since it was launched in July 2004, Recruit Co.’s R25 has risen to the top of the ranks of Japan's free publications, thanks to content that rivals that of paid magazines. The company started out printing 500,000 copies but raised this number to 600,000 in September 2004, a level it has maintained since then. R25 is targeted at men between the ages of 25 and 34 and commands a per-page advertising rate of ¥2.5 million ($20,833 at ¥120 to the dollar). Though higher than the going rate for men’s magazines, which ranges between ¥1 million ($8,333) and ¥2 million ($16,667), R25 has nonetheless attracted sponsorship from beverage manufacturers, IT manufacturers, and other major corporations since its inaugural issue.

A more recent entrant to the free-publication scene is Miku, a magazine targeted at women with children under the age of three, which was launched in March 2005. The publisher, Zenkyoshin Co., says that the aim of Miku is to help halt the decline in the birthrate by offering articles that provide support for new mothers and make parenting more enjoyable.

Distribution is the key to success for free publications. Many publishers place stands in stations, on street corners, and in other high-profile locations, though there are a variety of other arrangements. Community papers, for example, are generally delivered to individual households in a certain area, while restaurant guides with discount coupons are often made available at the eating establishments featured in their pages. Though paid publications generally go through distribution agents, free papers are not bound by such conventions, and publishers can distribute the papers themselves or find other routes to get information directly to readers and consumers.

The market for free papers is likely to continue expanding, shaped by a constant stream of innovations.

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Copyright (c) 2005 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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