TimeOut becomes a freebie: what will relaunch mean?

Aug 2, 2012

'Grand-daddy of listing magazines' goes free as it aims to increase circulation to 300,000

TimeOut London

LONDON listings magazine Time Out is to be relaunched as a free title this autumn and will be given away at Tube stations, shops, bars and museums in the capital. The title's owner, Oakley Capital, hopes that the move will boost the circulation from around 50,000 to 300,000.
Although the owners claim the weekly magazine, which currently costs £3.25, is still profitable it has seen a steady decline in sales from more than 100,000 in the 1990s, while free competitors like ShortList and Stylist have become popular.
The magazine will be free only in London; its other editions, including those in Paris and New York, will still be paid for.
"The switch puts the publication in direct competition with the recently launched Scout Magazine, as well as more established titles such as Stylist, Shortlist, Metro and the Evening Standard, all now operating on a freebie model," says The Londonist website.

"What effect the new approach will have on the content of the magazine remains to be seen. Already a slimmer read than it once was, Time Out is set to get still thinner and contain a higher proportion of advertising."
Time Out project director Greg Miall told The Daily Telegraph: "The Standard is an inspiration for us... It was a fantastic brand that everyone knew, they tweaked the editorial and it's now a quality newspaper that everyone reads." However, the Telegraph claimed that Time Out's listings pages would be cut from 124 to 72.
The magazine was founded in 1968 by Tony Elliott with a print run of 5,000 and a cover price of a shilling.

The Guardian calls it "the grand-daddy of listings magazines", adding: "The move highlights the changing nature of the publishing business, with most paid-for newspapers and magazines seeing circulation fall as readers look online for free news, reviews and listings information.”
Going free is not the only innovation at the magazine, which recently launched an iPad app. Last month Marketing Week reported that it was also moving into ticket sales and live events.
Former Time Out writer Duncan Campbell, who worked at the magazine in its heyday in the 1970s, said the publication should take advantage of its new status.
Writing in The Guardian, Campbell asks: "Has London ever had a greater need of a non-sectarian, non-mainstream magazine to cover the extraordinary events that are taking place?
"The big test for the new giveaway version will be this: can it reclaim its commitment to the magical and radical city of London by introducing a news section that exposes, reveals and challenges – or will it settle for being just another of those bland, consumer-led handouts that are discarded to clog up the floors of London's Tube trains and buses?"

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Is the Evening Standard such a good model? I still want to read Brian Sewell. But most of the other critics are bland and dull writers - and for instance the theatre coverage lacks the edge it used to have in the old days. The truth is that the Standard was at its best when edited by Charles Wintour, and at its disastrous worst when edited by Veronica Wadley. At present its range includes a bit more of London, and a few more social levels, than when it seemed to exist mainly for the Royal Borough. Time Out as a free mag will only work if it is genuinely editorially led which it obviously will not be - since it is owned by anonymous capitalists who were sold a pup in a declining market and will have no idea what it means to support editorial independence. Also the consumption of supposed culture is not what it was, since an awful lot of what goes on in London is either inadequately funded to be really good or designed to exploit the needy naivety of tourists. Most sensible people's outings and consumption are not prompted on the spur of the moment when en route either to work or to a more relaxing domestic interlude. So Time Out will be about travel and the supposedly desirable trappings of success like most free publications - perhaps they should go into direct competition with The Big Issue. That might be a way to preserve the original vision that Tony Elliott had - though his big issue was probably becoming rich and his genius was timing, knowing when to jump and open the parachute!