Monday, February 08, 2010

Selling magazines more cheaply doesn't necessarily lead to selling more of them

If ever publishers needed a wake-up about the relationship between price and reader value, it may have been provided recently by a report in the newsletter CircMatters. It reported that while many publishers in the U.S. have allowed (or driven) their subscription prices down in the hopes of maintaining readership, the result is often lower, not higher, sales. According to a report in MediaPost,
[The] newsletter surveyed subscription data from the Audit Bureau of Circulations for 344 magazines from the first half of 2002 and the first half of 2009. The analysis revealed that the average subscription price per issue fell about 7% over this period, from $1.70 to $1.58, with bigger magazines -- that is, magazines that sold more than 100,000 subscriptions in a six-month period -- lowering their sub price at roughly twice the rate of smaller magazines (10.5% versus 5.4%).

Of the 344 titles surveyed, 222 (65%) had a lower subscription price in 2009 than 2002. However, lowering subscription prices generally did not lead to higher sales -- in fact, it was often correlated with lower sales.

[CircMatters]' survey found that of the 222 titles that lowered subscription prices, 164 (75%) also saw individual subscription sales fall, with more than half suffering losses of 20% or more in subscription sales between the first half of 2002 and the first half of 2009.
CircMatters publisher Jack Hanraham said he was especially concerned about so-called sponsored subscriptions. "The recipient pays nothing for a subscription because the publisher is paid by the sponsor," and about which "we know little... in terms of reader quality and engagement."

In a recent speech the British Columbia Association of Magazine Publishers (BCAMP), I spoke to the fact that it may not be readers, but publishers, who are responsible for devaluing magazines:
For generations, we have worked to convince readers that a magazine is worth no more than a high-end greeting card, and sometimes considerably less....Most of us don’t even make the effort to make the case for rational pricing; in fact, we apologize for rate increases, even though our readers well know that in a commercial world, everything goes up, including their incomes. Right now, a typical magazine sells for substantially less than an hour’s labour at minimum wage. It’s little wonder if people don’t value what we do in the way that they should; it has been our doing.

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