Monday, April 6, 2009

minor rant

I've threatened to address this topic for years. But the magazine industry, in addition to being nearly obsolete, is an enormous racket. Subscription cards are a horrifying waste of paper and trash, for one thing. Even (maybe even especially) magazines that spend a great deal of their pages on eco-wellness and conservation can be tipped upside down to an avalanche of the familiar white rectangular cards. How many subscriptions do those things sell? I would guess less than one for every fifty magazines that are purchased. So what is the logic to putting FIFTEEN of the damn cards per magazine? Wasteful, annoying. If you'd like to hear a gross detail, ask me what I do with them. It's kind of like freecycling, but involves cat litter.

Additionally, the magazine renewal process is the opposite of transparent. The only way to know when your subscription is actually expiring is to figure out the encoded date on your mailing label (and if you already opened your magazine, most of which are encased in plastic now, you already threw away that label). Otherwise, the only gauge you have for the timing of your expiration is the CONSTANT letters you get encouraging you to Act Now! Lock Down This Special Introductory Price! You're Qualified for Professional Industry Pricing! I just received a subscription to a well-living magazine last month as a gift from my Aunt, and TODAY I received a "Renew Now and Save" letter in the mail. The amount of paper this industry wastes in pointless advertising (not to mention the actual printing of the publication, which rarely gets kept or reused) is astonishing.

And even if I was an absolute sucker, and I went ahead and mailed this company a check to renew at the special low price of $10 annual, it is never made clear as to whether that payment would add an additional year to my current (prepaid) subscription, or if I'm just paid up for the upcoming 12 months. I'm going to get those damned renewal notices no matter if I'm paid up for the next decade or not. How would anyone who didn't keep pristine payment records AND maintain a constant conversation with magazine customer service ever know? I'm pretty certain that, over the last fourteen years of subscribing to Martha Stewart Weddings, I have paid for at least eighteen years worth of service. Sure, at $16/year (as long as I can remember), it's not like this is breaking me. I am extremely loyal to this magazine, I have saved every single issue, and I read every single page. $16 is completely reasonable for that amount of value, and I will always pay them as soon as I get an invoice rather than risk missing an issue (and, admittedly, when I *did* miss an issue last fall after we moved, MSW replaced it immediately, no questions asked).

But this leads me to my last topic: I have worked for a magazine, and elsewhere in the journalism industry. I know that the only thing that keeps these publications' doors open is advertising revenue. The operating expenses for any magazine are paid ENTIRELY BY THEIR ADVERTISERS. If you are purchasing a glossy filled with cosmetic, automobile and entertainment ads, you just gave that publisher an extra $3-4 that they didn't earn. They should be paying YOU to read their magazine and support their advertisers! The fact that these publications still attempt to add to their profit margin by assigning (occasionally outlandish) dollar values to the service of placing their magazine on a newsstand or in your mailbox is astonishing.

We have subscribed to a major weekly entertainment rag for most of the years that Austin and I have been dating. One year we got it for free because my subscription to Premiere magazine was transferred to an EW subscription when Premiere met an untimely demise (RIP). After that, we got an obnoxiously high renewal notice and canceled. Then a few months later got a ridiculously low "new subscriber" offer, and signed back up again. This has gone on for years now. Last year, my 2-year subscription was running out, and I got a nondescript card in the mail that told me, in unreadably fine print, that the card I'd used to pay for the original contract was going to be charged $46 unless I contacted them in writing to cancel in the next 14 days. I did so and received confirmation of cancellation. The SAME WEEK, Austin got a "subscribe now and save!" card inviting him to take advantage of the special low price of $19 for two years. A $27 difference in prices for the same plan?! Outrageous.

I love magazines. Especially cooking magazines. I cut most of the garbage mags out of my life (I used to religiously subscribe to Glamour, Cosmopolitan, In Style, Mademoiselle, US, Elle and Allure). I stopped taking Food & Wine when I realized I was only cutting one or two recipes out of every issue. Now I get Entertainment Weekly, MSW, Bon Appetit, Everyday Food (which I'm not planning on renewing) and Real Simple. The only ones that I always read cover to cover are MSW and Bon Appetit. Would I be more likely to read the other magazines if they were free? Probably not. Do I look at all of those magazines' websites regularly? I do. Is it clear that the days of the slick glossy publication are numbered? I think so, although it will make me sad when I'm no longer adding to my neatly ordered shelf of Weddings magazines once a quarter.

Just like in the music business, the magazine industry's total refusal to overhaul their subscription system from the outdated service that made them piles of money several decades ago is, most likely, its death march. Magazines that haven't put all of their content online, in an easily searchable format, will continue disappearing without a trace. I just wonder how many more years I'll find those damned cards under the bed or receive "urgent" notices in the mail before they've all just vanished.

1 comment:

Casey said...

Nice rant! I wholeheartedly agree. It's really insanity. By the way, I want some of your Everyday Food back issues. xo