The malaise of newspapers is a popular theme on the media beat this year, but magazines are getting a bit of a free pass. The robust news budgets, colorful pages and expensive glossy ads that pay for mag publishing might not be as immune from the media doldrums as somehave thought.
So, as magazine publishers eye their ink-stained brethren with concern, they are trying to put a spark in slumping circulation numbers with a new approach.
Time Inc., the industry titan which publishes 127 magazines, is turning to a cable TV-like pricing model this fall in a proactive move that will allow readers to cull from its extensive catalog of titles – and from other publishers that sign up, including Time rivals like Bonnier – and choose which mags they receive for a monthly fee.
According to Portfolio, the service, called Maghound, will run about $5 a month for three mags, $8 for five and on up. Publishers book each mag delivered as a single-copy sale on par with a newsstand sale, even though consumers are paying less. That will likely change down the road when circulation rules are updated.
Going to a monthly pricing model could be a great way to jack up circulation, but Maghound’s value as a boost to readership–people who actually read the magazines and see the ads–is not as clear cut. As one analyst told Portfolio: "My feeling is people who sign up will forget about it and the magazines will keep coming whether they want them or not."
Some reports are labeling the Maghound service as Netflix-like, but there's an important difference. The DVDs in the red Netflix envelopes that sit next to my TV while I pay monthly fees will eventually be watched, even if it takes me two months and defeats any economic advantage for me. But magazines being sent monthly via Maghound have a relatively short shelf life, unlike movies which are essentially timeless.