Free magazines and newspapers, which in Japan are lumped under the general English term “free paper,” are the cheapest form of entertainment you can find in Japan. And while the digitalization of everything under the sun has caused huge problems for the publishing industry and related fields, free papers appear to be thriving. According to a survey conducted by the Japan Free Newspapers Association (JAFNA), in 2009 at least 337 million copies of free papers were printed that year by profit-making organizations, which means the survey didn’t take into consideration the thousands of free publications printed by non-profit concerns such as universities. About 61 percent of the publications included in the survey were newspapers and 38 percent were magazines. In terms or frequency, 43 percent were monthlies and 19 percent weeklies. Biweeklies and “seasonals” accounted for 11 percent each.
JAFNA doesn’t give figures on content, which is what most people care about, but it did study the “purpose” of the free publications and found that 64 percent were distributed as “customer countermeasures,” which means premiums for people who bought other things from a company, including itmes such newspaper inserts or special free editions from publishers who otherwise charge for their product. Another 39 percent were created to “increase revenues” (zoshu taisaku) of companies’ main businesses, meaning presumably as promotional tools.
Thirty percent were strictly delivery devices for advertising. Sixty-six percent of free papers were funded by resources other than advertising, such as charging other advertisers to insert flyers in their publications or simply through direct sponsorship by parent companies. Of those that sold advertising, about 40 percent reported yearly revenues of less than ¥30 million each and 26 percent revenues of more than ¥100 million each. However, probably the most significant figures were those for distribution methods, since the whole idea of free papers is to get them in the hands of as many people as possible. About 42 percent were made available in places of business (restaurants, book stores, etc.), while 37 percent were distributed as either direct mail or other forms of delivery; 24 percent were placed in “public areas”; and a full 16 percent were put in railway stations. About three-fourths have web tie-ins.