23 October 2009

Doing an Evening Standard

News broke this week that the free bus industry trade magazine routeone was to follow in the footsteps of one of its rivals, Bus & Coach Buyer, and upload its entire publication online for anyone to view, be they paid-up subscribers or not. The e-magazine is available from the routeone website the day before its printed version is received by its readership.

We reviewed routeone in July 2008, though to maintain balance, also reviewed its main competitor, CBW the following week, followed by the old-style Transit mag the week after.

Routeone's advantage over CBW is that it is distributed to any bus or coach operator with an Operators' Licence for free. Additional copies and subscriptions for those who do not have an O Licence are available, currently at £79 (it increased by £10 at the start of 2009). Routeone also has its circulation independently checked by ABC, and the average number of copies distributed for the whole of 2008 was 5,894.

CBW and Transit do not permit their publications to be independently checked; we understand that in Transit's case this may well be a god-send! However, does the number of copies sent out necessarily reflect the popularity of your product?

From 12 October, London's Evening Standard did something very courageous. It joined the ranks of the plethora of free press in the capital city and started giving its flagship production away for free. Its print run has effectively been more than doubled to well in excess of half a million (600,000) and a handy online version is updated daily, so that, say a manager of a bus company in the Isle of Wight, can read it at his/her desk over an extended lunch.

The change has come about following the paper's purchase earlier in the year by Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev. The drop in sales (of 100%) will be bridged by increases in advertising, or so the theory goes.

Now, routeone's publishers, Expo, will have been all too aware of this bold move by Mr Lebedev and could well have based their decision to go for free on that. There could be a mini backlash though: what if at the start of September you paid £79 for a year's subscription only to now find you can read it online for nowt?

Routeone never had a price tag - not for the vast majority of its circulation, so placing it online for free represents less of a risk, yet potentially maximises readership. But what if the readership don't like what they see? The number who view the e-magazine is of little consequence since to publish online takes seconds. What routeone are interested in is advertisers, who in the current economic downturn aren't advertising as much. A reduction in those taking out ads in routeone has a direct link to its bank balance. Compare this to CBW and Transit and both are affected, but to a much lesser extent.

We don't believe routeone represents the best bus industry trade publication, the title here goes to CBW. It could be argued that routeone's ABC circulation figure should largely be ignored, since if the publication is free who would refuse it? Then there are those who don't like the publication's links to the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT), who effectively bankroll routeone, which in turn acts as the CPT's mouthpiece. While the CPT broadly represents the passenger transport industry, it only specifically acts for those who are paid-up members on its books.

Does anyone really care when you're getting something for nothing? We reviewed CBW in July 2008 and in March of this year, contributing writer 'CW' brought news of this production's attempts to glean new membership with a discount. He said that CBW's magazines are going to those who've requested their copy and were willing to pay the annual fee, inferring that since these operators continue to subscribe they're happy with their paid-for publication.

I think it's clear that routeone will lose revenue - though proportionately nowhere near the amount the Evening Standard is doing - since no one will bother paying for a printed subscription now!! The aim, therefore, is to hope and prey the increase in revenue earned from advertising is more than the deficit in subs. This is something CBW and Transit don't really have to worry about. (GL)

Read the Evening Standard online here
Read routeone online here

An update to this entry can be read by clicking here.