Periodical dysfunction

Magazines, says Doc Searls, are “screwing loyal subscribers,” and singles out five to which he subscribes:

My wife, who is more mindful of money and scams than I am, urged me to stop subscribing automatically to all of them, because all their rates are lowest only for new subscribers. So I looked back through my last year’s bills to see what I was paying for each, and then at what they pitched new subscribers directly, or though Amazon.

Only Consumer Reports’ price appears (at least in my case) to be lower for existing subscribers than for new ones. All the rest offer their lowest prices only to new subscribers.

My first thought was “loss leader.” I then went out and looked at Postal Service Form 3526, which in item 6 asks for “Annual Subscription Price.” I’m guessing that the Postal Service has ruled that somebody in the customer base must actually be paying that price.

So I went to check my two oldest subscriptions: Car and Driver (since 1978) and Playboy (since 1983). Hef’s back page, devoted mostly to Coming Attractions, contains the usual magazine boilerplate, and declares an oddly specific-sounding price of $32.97. This is my renewal month, and the bill is here on my desk: $32.97.

Meanwhile C/D, in their boilerplate, is saying $13 a year; last time out, I renewed for two years for $18, so I have no current bill for them.

I seem to recall that years ago, once in a while, a tardy response might result in a reduced rate, but this doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. And I do have a current notice from Consumer Reports, which asks $29 for a year (including, while it lasts, the annual Buying Guide), with discounts for two- and five-year renewals. I have no idea what they’re asking of new subscribers, because the first thing I do when a magazine arrives is shake it until all the blow-in cards fall out.

Oh, and of the four others Searls mentioned, I get two: last time out I paid $32.95 for Vanity Fair and $20 for Wired, which if nothing else suggests that Condé Nast is not entirely monolithic.


  1. Roy »

    1 June 2015 · 3:50 pm

    Most magazines (and newspapers) are so full of ads they should be free to the subscriber.

  2. CGHill »

    1 June 2015 · 7:17 pm

    Used to be, there were enough ads to pay the freight. Not anymore. (Apparently newspapers are now earning more from circulation than from advertising, and since circulation isn’t going up, advertising must be farther in the toilet than we thought.)

  3. Jay »

    1 June 2015 · 8:47 pm

    Don’t kid yourselves, advertisements still fund the biggest part of any hardcopy publication. Advertisers, and circulation auditors, like to see paying subscribers as it helps make the case the subscribers really want the magazine/paper, read it (and the ads) and aren’t treating it as just another piece of junk mail. The fact that the publication can get even more for a subscription is used to make the case to the advertisers they’ll get access to a group willing to spend the extra bucks, and wouldn’t you just love to get access to a group like that?

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