Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Online subscription sales

So has anyone else out there noticed what's going on with http://www.amazon.com in the USA? It doesn't seem to be happening in Canada, but it IS happening to Canadian magazines:

In the menu on the left-hand side of the amazon.com page, follow the link to "Magazine Subscriptions". In the search box at the top of the page, enter the name of your magazine and click "Go".

Interestingly, they're selling your magazine. Well, probably. Most large or mid-size Canadian magazines are listed there. Maclean's, Cdn Living, Chatelaine, The Walrus, Ski Canada, Opera Canada, Azure, New Internationalist ... almost all of the magazines I've looked up are listed there.

Any resulting subscription orders are (presumably) cleared through Ebsco/Canebsco.

Now -- ahem -- did you authorize Ebsco to sell subscriptions to the general public in this fashion? I thought not.

Most alarmingly, there's a little link that says "Ready to renew? Learn how". It takes you to a page that says this:

"When your subscription is about to expire, we'll send you a convenient renewal notice. You'll find a sample renewal mail below."

Really. How kind of them. But, um, typically the reason publishers authorize agencies to sell subscriptions to the general public (and remember -- Ebsco/Canebsco has until now primarily been a catalog agency that sells to libraries), it's because those agencies incur hefty promotional costs and therefore receive a hefty commission to cover those costs, and publishers get to renew those customers directly, so renewal orders aren't placed via the agency and therefore aren't subject to commission.

But in this case, it doesn't seem to work that way.

So my paranoid fear is that if we publishers don't nip this alarming Amazon.com/Ebsco thing in the proverbial bud, I bet their plan is to totally take over the magazine subscription market, by (together) providing centralized ordering of new and renewal subscriptions to the general public, WITHOUT actually undertaking any costly new subscription acquisition campaigns. They've already spent the bulk of that investment money ... it's called Amazon.com.

[Of course, since they're only selling subs in the USA at present, it's not the immediate danger that it will be when they flick that switch and start doing the same thing in the Canadian market.]

Anyone else worried about this? Has there been a huge discussion about this amongst my fellow circulators, and I simply missed it? In the not-too-distant future, will we publishers have to derive 100% of our revenues from advertising, because the agencies eat up virtually all the subscription revenues?

-- Jon

P.S. I know of one publisher who called and requested that Ebsco remove the unauthorized listing from Amazon in mid-February -- they said it would take 3 weeks. As of this morning, it's still there.


Blogger D. B. Scott said...

A couple of years ago, a guy from Amazon headquarters called me and asked for some basic data on the Canadian magazine industry. He seemed both stunned and disappointed by the results. He made no secret of the fact that he was researching the possibility of Amazon entering the subscription market. But he cooled to the idea fairly quickly and I never heard from him again. Now from what you've said it looks like they are doing it anyway.

10:43 am  

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