Top 3 Distribution Methods – And Why They Matter!

When it comes to subscriber-based publishing, whether traditional media or content marketing, distribution is one of the most critical components to success. There are three forms of distribution that are most popular and each has their pros and cons.

Free Distribution

Pros: The most convenient choice of a publisher is free distribution, particularly for content marketers. Free distribution requires less homework, database management and circulation control. For traditional media, this method is particularly beneficial at first glance, as you can have a higher quantity of readership to base advertising rates.

Cons: Content marketers don’t have too many negatives for free distributioin, particulary when readers are subscriber-based. However, for traditional media, it’s really a terrible scenario. The business model for traditional media mostly depends on advertising revenue. Advertisers want to know who the reader is. If distribution is free, especially without subscribers, the readership demographic is difficult to determine. Furthermore, readers have no investment in the media, which lowers the value of each reader, thus reducing cost per thousand of advertising rate base.

Controlled Distribution

Pros: Also known as “controlled circulation”, this form of distribution allows content marketers and traditional media to have a direct understanding of who exactly their audience is, whether or not the publication is free or paid. Subscribers are typically provided the media because they fit within specific criteria. For example, a trucking trade magazine is only delivered to directors of commercial trucking fleets and not to automobile mechanics. An added value to controlled distribution is called “requested”, which simply means the reader is not only “qualified” to receive the media, but has also specifically requested to receive the media. In tradional media, this is a big plus, which raises the advertising rate base significantly vs. free distrbituion. Advertisers know the audience has a professional or personal connection to the media and will acutally read the content.

Cons: This form of distribution requires professional, ongoing databse management. Don’t try this at home folks! Also, for traditional media or for content marketers that are offsetting production costs with advertising, third-party audits are typically involved. Audits are time-consuming and expensive, and have a punishing frequency (usually twice per year) that requires publishers to submit reports, statements and records to prove controlled distribution. Did I mention this is exhausting?

Paid Distribution

Pros: By far the best for distribution, paid subscribers are the diamond in the publishing industry. Every publisher wants them, and wants more of them. Why? Because paid subscribers have made an investment to receive your content. Very simple. It really doesn’t matter if you pay $1 or $50, a reader’s investment into your content amplifies engagement and has a longer shelf-life. Also, and sorry to all free distribution publishers, “pass-along readership” makes some sort of sense with paid distribution vs. free. Another benefit is a healthy database of readers with excellent data hygiene. Finally, there is some revenue to help offset some distribution costs, but, don’t get too excited, usually not enough to implement a business model.

Cons: Intensity all the way around. Constant renewal programs, constant bookeeping and constant pressure to perform better and better. There’s also plenty of expense to facilitate transactions. One of the most intense aspects is since readers have paid for their subscription, you had better come through on every promise made – you’re messing with their money now.

These are just a few examples of distribution methods. There are more, and there are many variations of the methods mentioned above. Before you run off and start publishing anything, you should seriously consider your distribution methods. Distribution is something that is there in the beginning and will be there in the end and it is not something that can easily be changed.

What distribution method do you think is best for your content marketing? For your traditional media? We would love to hear your thoughts.