Attention New York women ages 18 to 34: Every day this week on your morning and evening commutes to and from Williamsburg or Astoria, keep your eyes peeled at major subway stops for people distributing TrendingNY — Hearst's free monthly magazine, which targets you specifically.
The "freemium" title debuted a year ago as a test, with four issues distributed in September. It returned in May as a monthly with a circulation of 100,000. "TrendingNY is a first for New York where there are a lot of free newspaper offerings at one end of the spectrum and then big glossies at the other end, but this is something that didn't exist here before," said Editor-in-Chief Emily Cronin. She's a writer and editor (and former Fashionista contributor) who conceptualized and launched the magazine. "It's quick, it's stylish, it's shoppable, which is really the sweet spot for women in our demographic." She says the format was changed to a monthly for the sake of production pace and attracts better collaborators who want their work to have a longer life span.
Hearst has been experimenting with free and supplemental magazines targeting the millennial audience, a demographic that advertisers are desperate to reach. Last spring it debuted Branche, a free title from the editors of Marie Claire that was initially only distributed in New York. Its most recent issue — spring 2015 — was distributed at SXSW in Austin and in Los Angeles, too. In February, Harper's Bazaar released harper by Harper's Bazaar, a contemporary supplement for the millennial shopper that was inserted into subscription copies of the March issue. (Coincidentally, Alexa Chung appeared on both titles' first issues, proving she is the ultimate millennial bait.)
But TrendingNY is limiting its focus to the city. "New York is such a tremendous advertising market for smaller local companies because this is where they do their business," said Hearst Magazines Group Advertising Director James D’Adamo in a Hearst Corporate interview about the magazine in June. "And when you look at big national brands, whether beauty, fashion or retail, the lion's share of their business is done in the New York area." September issue advertisers include Swatch, Athleta, ABC Family, Macy's, Follie Follie and Solstice Sunglasses.
Cronin, who produces TrendingNY with a team of seven to nine editors, describes the magazine's tone as fun, energetic, accessible and discovery-oriented. "It's like your best friend who knows everything that's happening before everyone else and lives to share it with you and is not annoying about it." The September issue out Tuesday includes an interview with the female leads of the acclaimed Broadway show "Hamilton," who appear on the cover, a calendar of cultural and nightlife events, and a fashion editorial featuring the 100 Gates Project, a public art program on the Lower East Side. A standing feature is "My NY," a neighborhood map with a notable person's picks (this month it's actress Natasha Lyonne). Ongoing contributors include Aliza Licht, "P.S. I Made This" founder Erica Domesek and Fashionista's beauty editor at large, Cheryl Wischhover. "The whole magazine is effectively a cheat sheet to New York," said Cronin.
When it comes to fashion, the price point is much more accessible than glossy monthly magazines. "I want readers to be surprised and delighted by the prices that they see next to the pieces we are presenting rather than turned off because we are handing them a magazine that most of them didn't necessarily seek out or have very much awareness of before," said Cronin. And thanks to an online reader survey (there's a URL in every issue), she knows exactly how accessible the magazine needs to be. "We asked how much our reader would typically spend on a panel of items — a blouse, a handbag, a pair of shoes, jeans, how much she would spend on a normal piece, and how much on a splurge piece," she said. "It was very important that we meet our reader where she is." A page on necktie blouses in the September issue includes all items priced under $200, for example.
Each TrendingNY issue is released by teams on foot during the first full week of each month or until the copies run out. The magazine doesn't have a website but its content is syndicated through Hearst's digital sites. Distribution points are announced each day on Twitter, which Cronin uses to gauge reader response. "After our fourth pilot issue, I was getting so many tweets and direct messages saying, 'Where's the new issue, I need it,'" she said. "There's really that element of surprise and delight when people realize how much they are getting for free in a publication that's handed out on the street. It creates a loyalty." And in a city with so many media brands and advertisers vying for millennials' attention, that loyalty is everything.