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Published November 30 2015

Social Distribution Revisited

by Peter Biľak

We’ve written a lot about our Social Distribution system already, but it is still growing and developing, so we’d like to take a moment to tell you about the latest news.

A quick review for those who may be new to our community: Mainstream magazines get the vast majority of their income from advertising, not magazine sales. That means that the $3.99 you pay at the newsstand for a copy of, say, Cosmopolitan, just about covers the costs of distribution, and doesn’t go back to the publisher, whose bills have already been paid by advertising revenue. (Copies that don’t get sold are actually of so little value that they are normally destroyed, rather than returned.) In the end, the magazine becomes financially beholden to advertisers and must cater to their interests, not necessarily to the readers’.

At Works That Work we wanted to do things differently, so we looked for a way to cut out the middle men and build the most direct connection to our readers. We called it Social Distribution, and in the original plan, readers would pick up copies from our magazine hub, bring them to their local bookstores, and get paid for their efforts. Money from magazine sales would support readers and bookstores rather than some invisible intermediaries. This video from 2013 presents the idea.

We managed to bring the magazines to dozens of stores in this way, but we also noticed that in some parts of the world, bookstores refused to cooperate with informal distributors due to exclusive deals with distribution chains. So we made Social Distribution even more direct, publisher to reader, bringing the magazine to communities rather than to bookstores. Many of the communities we supply are schools, but there are also creative centres, cafes and companies, even groups of friends who pool their money to get a box of magazines and share it amongst themselves. The deal is simple. When readers order 7 or more copies, they get them for half price, receiving the discount normally reserved for the distributor. In 2013 we distributed over 40% of our print run via Social Distribution, since 2014, it’s been about 30%, (but the print run has also increased).

To help things along we designed those black bags you may recognise. They hold 10 copies of the magazine, weigh just 2kg, and are very easy to travel with. And speaking of travel, our site also features a database where readers can sign up to help deliver WTW. Log in and enter your destination, your travel dates and the amount of free space in your luggage. If your travel pla