Last month I decided not to renew my subscription to Sports Illustrated. I love the photography. I love the feature stories. There is probably one “great” story every other week, and at least one “absolutely amazing holy crap I have to tell everyone about this” story ever year. BUT since it’s a weekly publication it costs ~$100/year, a very steep price for a magazine. Especially one that you can read online for free.
As far as I know, my subscription ended at the end of May. Which is why I was surprised to see an issue of SI in my mail box this week. Granted, I realize that magazine companies do this all of the time, either to try to convince you to stay or because their billing just hasn’t yet caught up with their distribution.
After I picked it up and started flipping through, I began to wonder: would they be better off if they just kept sending me the magazine anyway? It’s no secret that the subscription fees barely cover the cost of printing. The real money is in the ads, and for ads you need eyeballs. Declining subscribers = declining ad revenue.
When Fortune Small Business bit the dust I wrote about the old school magazine business model:
They charge essentially nothing for subscriptions (many times $10/year or less) and instead rely on hefty ad rates to subsidize the ever-increasing costs. The model used to be brilliant. You charge to create perceived value – both in the mind of the customer and the advertiser (it stands to reason that people are more likely to read something that they pay for). It’s not working anymore.
Well, maybe a solution is to keep your former subscribers around. It’s not the same as a free magazine in the sense that just anyone would be getting it. The advertisers would still see value in me because I was a long time subscriber and clearly have interest in the subject matter, even it it’s a little less than it used to be.
Not fair to the paying subscribers? Maybe just send me every other issue. Or send them a week late. You could send the overstock from the bookstores and supermarkets…speaking of which, what happens to that anyway?
Either way, the decline of the magazine industry continues to fascinate me. The more I think about it, the more I think they are blowing it. I still like reading in print. There’s something “better” about it. I’m sure a lot of people feel the same way. The key is to 1) stop producing content that’s super time-sensitive (the web has already won), and 2) make it worthwhile enough for me to pay something for the content when it’s available for free online (or, make it really awesome and don’t publish all of it online).
$10/year for Inc. Definitely. I’d probably pay $30 or $40. But $100 for SI. Sorry.