You have arrived at Boughton's Coffee House magazine - the news magazine for the retail coffee and tea trades.
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Coffee House magazine, circulation and other business statement
The circulation policies of trade magazines have recently come in for some questioning. We are happy to lay out our policies clearly for the benefit of those who read, subscribe to, or advertise in, our magazine.
- IanB, August 2011
In May 2011, Boughton’s Coffee House magazine changed publishing frequency, from six to twelve issues a year – we ‘went monthly’. This is because our editorial content was simply too strong to fit in a bi-monthly magazine, and because we believe that trade news needs to be current. As enthusiastic news writers, bi-monthly was simply too infrequent for us.
Boughton’s Coffee House magazine has had one single mission statement throughout its life – ‘to inform, encourage and enthuse the coffee shop trade’. It has often been said that the words ‘encourage’ and ‘enthuse’ are unusual, but this illustrates that we have a very different approach to our work.
Our attitude is the direct opposite of many trade magazines, in many industry sectors. Many trade magazines work from a sales principle – their business is to make money by selling advertising, and the editorial aspect is largely secondary. All trade magazines will proclaim the quality of their editorial, but Coffee House is unusual in that our editorial content is our entire raison d’etre. We work to produce content which is informative, interesting, and entertaining – and feedback suggests that we achieve this.
Indeed, unlike other magazines, Boughton’s Coffee House does not actually have an advertising sales department – our entire writing and publishing work is undertaken by two people, and neither of us has the word ‘sales’ in our job description at all.
Coffee House magazine is a legitimate news organistion.
1. Circulation principles
Our circulation principle is that the magazine may be offered free of charge to anyone who operates a coffee-shop, tea-room, or café.
We recognise that the last word is difficult to define, and so we make our own decision on qualification – the tea-room of a five-star hotel may qualify (but not always), a greasy-spoon does not, a caravan in a lay-by does not. A sandwich shop does not unless it has a demonstrable interest and business in speciality coffee.
Marketeers may wonder how we know the difference, and this points to another difference in our way of working – we ‘know’, in various ways, our readers.
Generally speaking, publishers do not ‘know’ their readers. Only a year or two ago, one magazine in the coffee trade announced in its leader column that it had bought a mailing list of cafes, which we thought showed woeful ignorance. You have to know who your market is, not treat them as items on a list… ask any decent sales manager! The methods we have used for eight years means that we recognise, or are familiar with, most of the names on our list.
Some magazines look for additional segments of circulation, as a way to bump up their figures. In the beverage and catering sectors, a typical one is to distribute to facilities managers in corporate buildings. This is partly justifiable in that a facilities manager does, in many cases, have a responsibility for food and beverages – but it is probably not useful in a circulation list, in that those people are unlikely to have time to regularly read a specialist magazine on the subject of beverages. (We take the different approach of writing for the FM magazines as freelance writers on beverage subjects – we have written for these magazines since the 1990s).
Similarly, we do not add to our figures by circulating to branches of chain cafes – there is no point, for either us or our advertisers.
How about circulating to the trade’s suppliers? This is a particularly tricky problem.
Generally, trade publishers send out free copies to a trade’s suppliers/manufacturers for two reasons – one, to increase their circulation numbers, and second, to remind these suppliers and manufacturers that they exist.
In practice, of course, this is not useful to the trade. The more suppliers who appear in a circulation list, the more an advertiser is spending money on appearing in front of his rivals, instead of his likely customers. We have taken the view that Coffee House will not be given free to suppliers, except those who are advertisers and are traditionally given a ‘voucher’ copy to prove that their advertisement appeared.
And so, the basic circulation principle is this – the magazine is offered free of charge to those in the front line of the trade who operate businesses in which they serve beverages in the cup to the public consumer. If any further copies exist, they may then be offered to the trade’s suppliers.
However, a supplier, or any interested party who does not qualify for a free copy, may receive a guaranteed copy by paid subscription.
We have held our subscription price at £25 per annum, even though we have moved to 12 issues a year instead of six. We believe this is incredible value for money. (Our overseas rate is also unchanged, at £35 p.a.)
(“A subscription implies that the magazine is sent to the subscriber until one of the three expires” - AA McDonnell, ‘England, Their England’).
3. Distribution list
Our circulation list was created by ourselves in 2003, and has been developed monthly ever since.
We develop it in a way which is probably unique in this trade.
In addition to our constant monitoring of the coffee trade, we also monitor the regional news media right around Britain, with the result that we are often - not always, but often - pretty well uptodate with café openings around the UK. This constant verification of the café sector means that we are generally adding two or three dozen businesses to our list every month; these, we find, offset the unfortunately increasing number of café closures. Essentially, our database increases every month.
Our list is, so far as we can possibly achieve, uptodate. Its accuracy is such that our ‘returns’ through the post office amount to an average of one-third of one per cent of our mailing figure.
4. Proof of distribution
How do marketeers assure themselves of the veracity of publishers’ claims concerning distribution of magazines?
Generally, publishers claim a ‘circulation’ figure, and many also claim a ‘readership’ figure. The latter is unreliable, and is based on the assumption that each copy is handed from one person to one or more others - it is, in most cases, guesswork, and in some cases it is far beyond any justification. We do not consider any ‘readership’ figure.
The ‘circulation’ figure can be checked in several ways. The Audit Bureau of Circulations figures are regarded as fairly solid proof, but most small publications are not members – indeed, we ourselves are not. It is possible to ask for a printer’s certification of the number of magazines printed, but of course that could possibly be open to abuse. It is also possible to request a certification of the number of magazines put in the mail through the post office, and this is probably the cheapest and safest way of establishing a magazine’s claims as to how many copies are distributed.
Coffee House can show printers’ records and mailing records back to 2003.
5. Our distribution figure.
Our chosen circulation figure is 3,000. This was decided upon early in the magazine’s life, has been reconsidered regularly ever since, and as yet we have seen no reason to change it.
At the launch of this magazine it was agreed, in consultation with various people more experienced in the industry than ourselves, that while there may be anything between 5,000 and 10,000 coffee houses in the UK, that for a figure of ‘serious’ owner-proprietor cafes, in which a trade newspaper would be read by a manager with purchasing influence, three thousand would be considered a perfectly realistic figure.
(We do actually hold a database of almost eleven thousand ‘cafes’, which was created by our own research. However, we will only put verified speciality-beverage cafes on to our magazine circulation list).
The size of our database of ‘legitimate’ qualifying businesses is now well in excess of our print run. The number of subscriptions and amount of advertising revenue obviously play a large part in determining whether the mailing list will be expanded or not.
The alternative is for us to ‘rotate’ circulation, which means that legitimate recipients might not always be guaranteed a copy every month… but we are reluctant to do this. A decision will probably be reached soon.
6. Our advertising sales principles and practice
The standard light-hearted line that we often use with regard to our advertising sales is that we are ‘non-stop, no-nonsense, never-say-die, blood-or-glory, stop-at-nothing, hell-for-leather advertising sales guerillas’.
In fact, of course, we very rarely ‘sell’ anything – we occasionally politely suggest that somebody might consider an advertisement, but that’s as aggressive as we get.
So, why does anyone advertise in Coffee House? It’s not because they are ‘sold at’! No, suppliers advertise with us because they know that our magazine gets attention – we get read. They also know that we are the most active writers supporting their trade, bar none… as freelancers, we write about beverages in our own magazine, in the pub-trade press, the facilities-management press, the restaurant press, and the general-catering press. We suspect that some advertisers think our activity on their behalf, and on behalf of the trade in general, is worth supporting !
Curiously, we take an interest in the content of advertisements. This is unusual – if you ask most ad-sales people what is the content of an advertisement that they have ‘sold’, they won’t have a clue.
We do – we are interested in what our advertisers are trying to achieve.
This is tricky, because it is not our job to dictate what an advertiser should say. However, we do think it is in everybody’s interest for us to understand what an advertiser wishes to achieve, and we are not scared to put forward a question or two. Typically, if an advertiser wants to say ‘Bloggs and Son, for all your café needs’, then we might respectfully try to find out if there is a product or service they are majoring on, so that an otherwise too-generalist advertisement might turn into something more eye-catching : ‘Bloggs and Son, for all your café needs… and this month, the first in the UK to bring you the new chocolate portafilter, so ring now for your free sample!’.
We will also assist with advertisement design and copywriting, with some minor conditions – we rarely charge for design work, but then again we do not claim to be superb graphic-design specialists, and we are not going to spend days on an advertisement, as an agency might do at hundreds of pounds an hour. No, we’ll happily offer to create something simple and attention-getting… but don’t expect something that will win awards. Equally, we will assist in copywriting for an ad if required – one supplier said to us recently: ‘the way I see it, you’re the writers – so you write it!’.
Advertisement rates are, as for most magazines, a fluid subject. There is a Coffee House rate card - but yes, there are also discounts. The reasons for these discounts can vary, from a special rate for an agreed series of insertions, to a last-minute discount when we have a slot to fill on the last day before going to press. But we will never undersell, as space is always at a premium because of the large amount of ‘quality’ editorial – and we would rather publish high-quality editorial than a low-priced advertisement.
It follows that we never give advertisements away. It is a known tactic for trade magazines to fill pages with free advertisements in the attempt to create an impression of a publication that big brands wish to be seen in. We will not do this – the only free advertisements we have given away are for known charities, and on one never-to-be-repeated occasion when the editor told a supplier that we had an ad space ‘free’, when we should have used the word ‘vacant’. (We won’t be caught like that again!)
Nor do we levy any ‘colour separation charges’. This, in our view, is little better than fraud – in our experience, ‘colour separation charges’ have not been legitimate since perhaps the mid-1980s.
The above are our general circulation and advertising principles, and we will always respond to any serious enquiry concerning them.
Ian Boughton, Coffee House magazine