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The Insane American Magazine Business Model is Back with a Vengeance!

September 12, 2011


What if I tell you that over the weekend I ordered 201 (Two hundred and one, I had to spell it out so folks won’t think it is a typo) issues of 18 different magazines published by Hearst Magazines and paid less than 45 cents an issue? A total of $90 dollars guaranteed me an entire-year- subscription to all but one magazine from the Hearst Magazines stable of magazines. The one exception, missing from the list, is one of the few major success stories of a new magazine launch in the last five years: Food Network magazine. This is insanity at its best. A year of Cosmo, the number one selling magazine on the newsstands for $5.00. Same can be said about the remaining 17 magazines offered at this “pre-holiday price for one week only!”

And Hearst is not alone. Condé Nast is offering its print magazine subscribers free access to its digital Apps. on your tablet. Condé Nast magazine subscribers are reminded the minute they pick up their magazines from the mailbox that “You’re missing out! Your print subscription includes access to (insert magazine name)’s iPad version- at no extra cost.” Great and thank you. However, I have a problem now because I bought a new iPad and every time I try to access the free Apps, I am reminded that I have an account already and what I know is free, I have to buy. I tried emailing customer service to solve this problem and all what I receive back is details on how to enter my account number and sign in. I even deleted the Apps from my older iPad and still to no avail.

Well that is not the end of the story. I also received emails from Condé Nast asking me to renew my subscriptions to Wired and Vanity Fair. The offers give you the opportunity to give a one year’s free subscription to a friend, receive a gift and renew your own for one low price. What is going on? I recall the early years of Wired when the price of a subscription used to be higher than the cost of buying the magazine on the newsstands and there was no “bill me later.”

As an outsider watching our industry struggle to stay afloat, I plea with my friends at the aforementioned magazine companies and the rest of the magazine industry to stop committing suicide and later wonder why did we die. The business of counting customers have departed this planet on Sept. 2008. Let us get back to the business of customers who count. The Audit Bureau of Circulation must go back to counting subscriptions that count and not just counting. A penny paid for a subscription should not count as a paid subscription. Remember when paid subscriptions used to be at least half of the basic subscription price. Those were the days my friend and they have to come back. I know that is only one of the many problems surrounding the advertising driven business model, but we have to start somewhere. It is never too late.

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11 comments

  1. S-
    I forsee, in the next 10-15 years, that American magazines will need to trend toward what is going on in Europe and Asia — little to no advertising and high subscription costs. In fact, my magazine is already building those strategies.

    Do you see this too? I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this, since so far, we seem to be on the same page.


    • Yes indeed, but only for those magazines who are going to survive and not commit suicide before then. It is more than insane and an insult to the brand that you can receive O, The Oprah Magazine, or any magazine that matters, for $5 the entire year. They are better off giving it away for free than charging for it this price.


  2. @J Megonigal,
    Pardon my ignorance.. but what are magazines in Asia and Europe doing that the majority of American publishers aren’t?


    • Magazines in Asia depend more on high subscription costs and less on advertising.


      • Oh. I don’t think that would work here only because NOW, everyone is so used to the bargin basement rates that it would probably be a losing battle to try and get them to pay higher subscription cost.


  3. [...] The Insane American Magazine Business Model is Back with a … This entry was posted in War on Terror and tagged folks-won, hearst, ordered-201, [...]


  4. I buy iPad & Android Magazines from this cool website,just in case anybody i interested.

    http://www.magazineforipad.com/


  5. Those of us who work in the newsstand side of the business wonder endlessly how we are supposed to keep our business going when the legs keep getting cut out from under us. Why on earth should the wholesalers cooperate with us when their so called trading partners are telling the wholesalers customers that they’re fools for paying full price?


  6. [...] The Insane American Magazine Business Model is Back with a Vengance! [...]


  7. But would people pay those higher rates? I subscribe to about 6 magazines and the typical renewal rate is $24. I wouldn’t pay $30 or $40 to subscribe. In fact I wonder why all the really cheap rates are to get new customers and they don;t do much to keep the subscribers they already have.


  8. Utne Reader has been charging $36 for a year ($29 a year for online payment transaction subscriptions) for the last two years. It used to charge those bargain basement rates of $9.99 for introductory one-year subscriptions and $19.95 for one-year renewals. $36 may seem like alot, but I see my paying this annual rate as a commitment to intelligent reading and good quality printing (I have been a subscriber for 20 years). Utne Reader’s decision to focus on their readers that truly love the magazine makes sense and I agree with Husni on this. I subscribe to fewer magazines this way, so that I can commit to reading what I truly love. Too many of these “bargain basement” magazines have too many ads and too few stories of substance. I say support more intelligent writing and creative graphics on quality paper, even if it costs more. I find the high quality of today’s Utne Reader is $36 well spent. This is also why magazines such as The Economist and The Sun, that also charge above average rates for their subscriptions, continue thriving. Readers that matter should and do invest more in what they want and deserve to read. These conglomerate publishers offering these “bargain basement” subscription rates for these publications filled with more ads than stories should be taking notice.



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