If you want people to read dead-tree media, your best bet is to give it away. That's the message from the latest Audit Bureau of Circulations report covering consumer magazine between July and December 2012.
It's a boom time for customer publishing - the art of giving mags away free to shoppers and airline passengers. But now traditional publishers are getting in on the free act too, as newsstand sales continue to drop:
-- Of the top 100 consumer magazines, free or mostly free titles (with more than 50 percent given away) added a total of 421,973 in average per issue print sales.
-- In comparison, the top 100 magazines with a mostly paid-for business model, in aggregate, saw their total circulation decline by 78,776 copies per issue.
-- Six of the top ten biggest gainers gave away 90 percent of their copies per issue and one of those, Time Out, saw its circulation increase 485 percent since going free.
-- Men's magazine Shortlist, the poster child for the free consumer revolution, clocked up a weekly average of 531,733 per issue, its 10th consecutive increase since launching in 2007, making it the 12th biggest magazine in the country.
-- Its sister title Stylist gives away 433,482, meaning Shortlist Media's combined weekly reach of nearly one million.
It's worth noting that four of the completely free titles that were in the 10 biggest gainers are produced by (or on behalf of) non-publishing brands: Asos, Virgin Media, Odeon and Morrissons, which gives away 1.3m copies a month.
Out of the whole top 100, supermarket magazines from Morrisons, Asda, Waitrose and Tesco (which has two) account for almost 8 million monthly copies - 19 percent of all magazine circulation in the top 100.
In comparison, of the top ten biggest losers, all are mostly or entirely paid-for. That includes some big names such as Reader's Digest (down 36 percent), Heat and Cosmopolitan.
The free to paid split in the top 100 consumer magazines is now 47.1 per cent free to 52.9 percent paid, and if the trends continue you'd expect the total circulation of free magazines in the top 100 to overtake paid within not much more than a year.
Given those figures, it's not hard to see why Time Out decided to go free. If you want print advertising to drive revenues then the potential boost to your circulation from dropping the cover price is likely to be more than worth it. It's worked for the Evening Standard - and it looks like it might work for Time Out.