April 16th, 2007

Fishy Circumstances


Each month, Olive Magazine arrives packed with a little something extra. Most months, it's no more than a small, glossy booklet collating in one handy package a number of thematically-related articles - dessert recipes, restaurants to visit, that sort of thing. Other months, there are objects wrapped up in its outer plastic: one month, there was a silicon spatula in a lovely shade of blue. Another month, there was a capacious Olive-branded shopping bag, which has come in handy now and again. This month was a bumper crop: a single origin Thornton's chocolate bar; a booklet of foodie destinations; and a bit of less immediately interesting targeted marketing, an ovenable metal bag.

I describe all this not as an advertisement for Olive (although it's a fine magazine), but for the contrast it presents to all the other journals to which I subscribe. Mill News is occasionally accompanied by pretty little pamphlets and maps; this month's was extra-special - it came with a pamphlet containing an essay of particular interest to me - almost like getting a little book free with it.

Beyond those, to claim the rest of my journals come with freebies is to stretch the concept a little too far. Once in a blue moon, a press will pay to have an advertising flier included with one of them. Isis includes a once-a-year extra bibliography volume. AHA membership comes complete with a surfeit of newsletters. Beyond that? Well, you get what you pay for in the underfunded world of semi-commercial academia.

Inspired by Olive, I've been daydreaming recently about all the fun little freebies which could arrive in my mailbox every few months. Isis could give away a glossy, make-your-own astrolabe one month. Renaissance Quarterly might arrive with a sample of vellum, from an appropriate advertiser. Speculum's plastic wrapping could enclose a set of nicely-printed medieval recipe cards. (Collect them all!). Technology and Culture could come with a replica miniature nineteenth-century board game. Well-thought-out freebies are usually worth receiving.

Alas, given the business model under which academic journals operate and the lack of heavy-duty advertising revenue behind them, it's not likely to happen anytime sooner. But I can dream.