"Will the free magazine market ever become saturated?"

One thing that you have no doubt noticed if you live in Tokyo is the amount of free magazines available almost everywhere, from convenience stores to train stations, street corners to restaurants. Most likely, the majority of free magazines you receive originate from publishing powerhouse Recruit. Just to name a few, L25, R25, Hot Pepper, Hot Pepper Beauty, eruca, Town Work, Jyutaku Mansions, and so on.

Every Thursday, as a working female, I look forward to picking up a copy of L25 on my way to work. Astoundingly, it seems that almost every other working female feels the same. Passing the magazine stand at Jimbocho station rush-hour, 98% of women walking ahead of me pick up a magazine along the way—sometimes there is even a queue of women scrambling to pick up a copy. If you get there half an hour late, you will most likely be out of luck.

L25Recruit's L25 So how are these free magazines so successful? Firstly, they tailor the magazine to fit the needs of the target market. So taking L25 as an example, articles will include informative yet easily comprehensible pieces on, say, how to invest your money for the future yet have enough disposable income to buy that Prada bag. Or they will have funny little stories on amusing real-life incidents while commuting to work on the train. And as most working women commute to work on the train and read the magazine at the same time, the article really speaks to them and fits in perfectly with their lifestyle.

Recruit really know everything about their readers—from where their readers work to what they eat, drink, buy, etc.

So how does L25 make money? Apart from obvious pure advertising (which a lot of other non-Recruit free magazines do but is less popular because they are boringly filled with just pure ads), Recruit also have Kiji-koukoku’s—advertorial articles. The clever way Recruit do this, taking L25 as an example again, is by manipulating or influencing the readers into feeling that “you, yes YOU” really need to buy that washing detergent.

L25 compile reader surveys on a weekly basis and they will relay this in an interesting little article about working women’s lifestyles. Then, the article will lead onto “working women’s favorite household chores” and after that, almost by magic, the survey has somehow revealed that working women’s favorite chores are washing clothes and if you’re busy, then this product will help you with your busy schedule by omitting the need for you to iron your clothes.

Every time, I start reading the article with interest and then, right at the end, discover that it is also an advert. But then again, does this matter? It was a free paper after all….

Recruit are the Dentsu of the magazine world. They just seem to be growing month on month and there seems to be no limit to the amount of magazines they can publish. Will the free magazine market ever become saturated? If it does, it will no doubt be saturated with Recruit magazines, if nothing else.


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Where does metropolis come into this? and all the other gaijin free papers?

Well, Metropolis is, as you say, a free paper for gaijin.
Recruit only do free magazines for Japanese speakers so I suppose I can't say where Metropolis come into this - they are two seperate markets really. It will be interesting to see if Recruit and other such companies ever tap into the gaijin market though!

I would assume the gaijin (by which we mean 'English') market is too small to be relevant for Recruit to target, and I don't think they understand that market well enough to try to break into it. I don't think what someone like Recruit does in terms of free magazines and what Metropolis does are really the same at all. Recruit is free not only because they sell ads, but because every one of their free magazines is, in itself, brand building and marketing for Recruit. Thus, their publications have the recursive goal of self-promotion, which isn't really relevant in the case of free magazines directed at the foreign community in Japan. In other words, Recruit can lose money on their free magazines (I'm not saying they do lose money, just that they can afford it) because in the end, they are really advertising their own job placement services, which are obviously brining in a lot of money these days.

That's a good point - the magazines are great marketing for Recruit. Although, I think if a magazine did plummit and sold no ads (which, if the content was awful and no one read it, they wouldn't sell), then it would hurt the credibility of Recruit somewhat.

Recruit are the Dentsu of the magazine world.

I meant to mention this before, but it slipped my mind. Recruit are the Dentsu of the magazine world because Dentsu is behind what they're doing. The two firms founded a joint venture called Media Shakers in 2005, and they worked together to create Hot Pepper, L25 and R25.

Back in March 2007, Dentsu bought 3 million shares of Recruit, which made it a 5% shareholder. That stake was worth something like 27 billion yen at the time.

I live in London and the free paper market is definitely saturated now, since a few years ago. One after another free paper comes out and while I used to take them to read on the train, now I won't take them at all because every corner you turn there is someone in a bright coloured jacket thrusting them upon you (apparently those people get very well paid!).

I did visit Japan recently though and I noticed that it is mouch more about free magazines, that often look expensively produced- does anyone know why their is a preference for glossy weeklies in Japan but for taccy daily "newspapers" in the UK?