Once upon a time I subscribed to more than a dozen different magazines. Keeping up was overwhelming at times, particularly since many of those magazines were a half-inch thick or more. (Anyone remember the good old days when Wired used to have some serious heft?!) Now I can count my magazine subscriptions on one hand. I still crave the content and the writers, but I prefer to read this information sooner than the print model allows.
I use RSS feeds and other techniques to obtain some of this material. And even when I'm 30K feet in the sky on a flight I have my Kindle 1.0 with the terrific KindleFeeder service to provide my daily dose. Despite that though, I feel there's a huge hole in the magazine model and I have a suggestion that could go a long way to addressing it.
I'm talking about a service that starts by providing access to all the magazine content on the planet. It would be delivered wirelessly to my various devices (Kindle, iPhone, MacBook Pro, etc.) and I'd (gladly!) pay a monthly fee for it. What I'm describing is fairly close to the Safari Books Online model, only applied to magazines, not books. So rather than getting physical copies of BusinessWeek, FastCompany, etc., in my mailbox from time to time (and several days after the material was written), I'd get it immediately and have access to it anytime, anywhere. (Btw, there's nothing more frustrating than seeing a full-page ad in a magazine about the great additional content that's available this month on their website...especially when you're on a 4-hour flight and and wifi isn't an option!)
I would gladly give up my print subscriptions for this service. Yeah, I know that's one of the reasons the magazine industry is so afraid to build such a beast. They need to learn a thing or two from the music and newspaper industries though. Magazine publishers: Yes, your revenue base is likely to be smaller in the future. Deal with it. Btw, that's going to happen anyway, so why not acknowledge it now and start doing something about it?
So how much would I pay for an all-you-can-eat magazine subscription model like this? At least $50/month, maybe more. That's a lot, I know, but I'd expect some additional functionality built into the system to justify that price:
- I want the full contents of my favorite magazines. I don't want every magazine delivered to me in this format...I'll never get through it all! But I absolutely want to pick and choose which magazines automatically show up and include 100% of the regular content.
- I also want to be able to pick and choose certain columnists and other features/articles from some of the magazines that aren't in that first list. Again, these should be delivered automatically, without all the other content I don't care about from that particular magazine.
- Most importantly, I want this system to learn about me and my interests. If I happen to read a lot about baseball, send me the hottest new baseball article from a magazine that's not part of those first two lists. Help me discover things I wouldn't other wise find!
- Include a terrific social networking platform. Make it super easy for me to send articles, excerpts, etc., to any of my friends, regardless of whether they have a subscription. After all, exposure to those who don't have a subscription might provide the nudge they need to sign up. And give me a finder's fee if they do!
You might be wondering how magazines earn their fair share when each customer is paying a flat fee for access to everything. Simple. It's all based on page views. My device keeps track of what articles I read and sends that information back to the service so that my monthly payment can be split into pieces and divvied up to each magazine I've touched. Maybe one month I only read ESPN The Magazine. OK, my entire monthly payment goes to them. Again, this is very similar to models we have in the book industry.
Over the course of a month I'm probably accessing 20, 30 or more different magazines this way. That means my monthly payment gets sliced up pretty thin, so why would a magazine publisher have any interest in these small payments? Two words: advertising revenue.
You currently pay an annual subscription price for most of those magazines you get in the mail. That subscription rate typically covers printing and shipping...and that's about it. Magazines get the bulk of their revenue from advertisers, of course. There's no reason advertising can't be part of this model too. Yeah, I know Amazon's magazine subscription model on the Kindle doesn't include ads. That's one option but I'm not sure it's the best. We're all used to seeing ads in magazines, so there's no reason they can't be present in an e-model with the same content.
In fact, I'd argue that the advertising component is where this could really change the industry. No more static images. No more wondering whether your target audience actually saw the piece. And don't forget about that third bullet above. This needs to be an intelligent system that knows a lot about me. As a result, every customer becomes part of a much more highly targeted audience. That generally means a higher CPM rate...or perhaps a completely new model. (Yes, those same old privacy advocates would choke on this idea...that's OK, they can keep killing trees with their print subscriptions!)
If the Kindle is any example it's clear magazine industry leaders have their heads in the sand. More than a year after the Kindle was announced there are only 24 magazines available for it. I'm sure the common magazine publisher complaints are, "we don't like Amazon's terms" or "we don't want Amazon to become the next Apple and control our channels." Any magazine executive with that point of view should be fired. Now is the time to be experimenting, not hiding in your foxhole. The Kindle represents yet another storefront and a chance to learn more about your customer. As the old saying (sort of) goes, those who don't pay attention to history (e.g., music and newspapers) are doomed to repeat it.