In the cut-throat political magazine sector, new readers are hard to come by and even harder to retain. Yet the Tory blogger and publisher Iain Dale is remarkably upbeat about the prospects for his new, politically neutral monthly title Total Politics.
Unlike almost every other current affairs publication in the market, Total Politics - which Dale describes as "a lifestyle magazine for the political community" - will be given away free to the vast majority of its readers. From fledgling councillors to Westminster greybeards, every one of Britain's estimated 23,000 elected politicians will be sent a copy - whether they want one or not.
Although the magazine will also be available via subscription and the newsstand (Dale would not be drawn on a prediction for these sales further than "We think we'll get a good four-figure sale within the first few months"), he believes that the free-distribution element of the title will make his project commercially-viable. "We looked at other ways of doing it, including online-only, but we weren't convinced that it could work. Given the age demographic of our potential readers, how many were actually going to download a PDF?
"I don't think the political audience would look at this magazine just online and I don't think advertisers would go for it either. So by going down the targeted free-circulation route we will have a major selling-point, which is if there's a message you want to get out to the political world, we'll be the only place for it."
Currently, Dale says, the only way a company, organisation or pressure group can reach politicians through advertising is via the House Magazine, which goes to MPs, peers, MEPs and a few others. "Right now there's nothing which not only reaches all of Westminster but also all councillors, MSPs, Welsh Assembly and GLA members and so on," Dale says. "We'll cover the whole lot."
He adds: "Of course the whole project is predicated on attracting advertising revenue, but all our research tells us the market is out there."
Although it is undoubtedly a pioneer in its sector, Total Politics - which launches in May and will be edited by Sarah Mackinlay, daughter of Labour MP Andrew Mackinlay, and currently deputy editor of Payroll World - is just the latest print publication to use the "free" business model, in which revenue is generated entirely by advertising...
Dale accepts that unless the magazine is of sufficient quality to ensure politicians actively seek it out and read it, there is a real danger that his free title will simply be lost in the blizzard of office paperwork, newsletters and leaflets with which MPs in particular are bombarded. "That's actually what happens to the House Magazine," he claims. "They say that most MPs read it, but I know for a fact that that's just not the case. If they do read it, they read maybe one article.
"We will be much more accessible and tabloid than anything else in the political sphere. If you look at the Spectator, the New Statesman and the House Magazine they're all to some extent a bit stuffy. We won't, I promise you, have any articles by John Hutton on PFI," Dale says.
Moreover, Total Politics, he concedes, will have a very limited window to make its time-poor readership sit up and take notice. "Iain Duncan Smith reckoned a new Tory leader had 90 days to make an impact, otherwise he was toast," he says. "I think exactly the same will be true for us."
If you have any questions about the magazine or wish to sign up for email alerts, go to the TOTAL POLITICS website HERE.