My magazine subscription stack is a fraction of the size it used to be. Information I used to get from print magazines now often comes from blogs and sometimes the websites of the magazines I used to subscribe to. Even though most magazines offer a deeply-discounted trial subscription to their print product, I've often wondered why they don't do more with e-subscriptions.
I'm unlikely to sign up for a trial print subscription that costs only a few dollars or is even completely free. Why? Because I know at some point I'll need to cough up the full subscription price, anywhere from $20 to $40 or more per year. I figure I can probably get by with other (free) resources instead, so why bother?
But what if every magazine suddenly offered a $3-$5/year e-subscription? This e-subscription would include the following:
- An e-mail message that appeared in my in-box with links to every single article in the newest print issue; this message comes out either ahead of or at the same time the print issue hits newsstands.
- Enough customization services to allow me to configure my subscription to best serve my needs. Since I'm only paying $3-$5/year I'm likely to have a lot of e-subscriptions. If that's the case, I may not want that all-encompassing e-mail in item #1; instead, I could just provide keywords, company names, industries, etc., that I want links to stories about in those e-mail messages.
- A fully searchable archive. Give me access to everything you've got.
If this service suddenly appeared tomorrow I'm quite certain I'd sign up for at least 10-12 e-subscriptions. These are subscriptions that don't reach me in any format today, so it's all new income for those publishers.
So why would these magazine publishers want to compromise their pricing model and offer me this content for $3-$5 when they can get print subscribers to pay much more? First of all, wouldn't they prefer to get something from me rather than nothing? It's not just the $3-$5/year they're getting, btw. Let's not forget the advertising income they'll generate when I click through to their content. Also, I'd be totally fine if they wanted to capture all my click-thru's and sell my trends/habits to any advertiser or other party; yep, I've never had a problem with that whole privacy issue, especially if it saves me a few bucks. There are probably other ways they could monetize this that I'm not thinking of, but you get the picture.
So what's the risk? There's no doubt the magazine publishers would fear that all their print subscribers would convert to e-subscriptions. Heck, I know I'd do that on one or two of my existing print subscriptions, especially if it meant cutting the cost this significantly. But then again, I'm probably going to let those subscriptions lapse anyway, so they're about to get zero revenue from my household before too long (e.g., Sports Illustrated). There are several magazines that I'd prefer to keep a print subscription for though. Oh, and let's not forget that I'm likely to find one or more of these e-subscription products so attractive that I wind up converting them into...drum roll please...print subscriptions! Yes, it's quite possible.
I don't claim to be an expert in the magazine business and I'm sure I'll hear all the arguments about how the CPMs for print are far better than online, but still... If your business is shrinking you need to start experimenting with other product/revenue models before it's too late. You can cling to those wonderful print CPMs and higher print subscription rates right to the end (and watch some upstarts swoop in and give customers what they really want).