They did it again.
At least once a year for the past dozen years, a magazine I have never even seen sent me a direct mail piece asking me to subscribe.
And, as usual, amidst all of the breathless marketing copy in the elaborate package, this year’s missive contained no actual content from the magazine. No one-page excerpt of an article. No highlighted paragraph. Not even a pithy quotation.
So I’m supposed to pay money for a magazine I know almost nothing about when I can download a free copy of one of the biggest best-sellers of all time, The Da Vinci Code? Or get a 30-day free trial to the tablet edition of any Conde Nast magazine? Or read various free issues, free previews, free book chapters, and even free excerpts I'm allowed to reuse in my own newsletter or blog?
No wonder the print magazine business is struggling. Even if people prefer print, we publishers don't make it easy for them. In a try-before-you-buy, get-it-now world, we're still trying to sell "Buy it now and wait six to eight weeks for delivery to try it."
Once upon a time, a decade or so ago, if you published a magazine that focused on a particular topic and you put your promotion in front of someone interested in that topic, you had a decent chance of getting her to subscribe.
It helped if she had seen your publication in a store, in a waiting room, or at a hair salon. If not, she still might take a chance on a subscription, knowing that even a mediocre magazine devoted to her hobby, industry, or passion would be worthwhile.
Not any more. In case you hadn’t noticed, we publishers no longer have a monopoly on information. Pick any topic, and you can probably find plenty of mediocre content about it for free with a bit of Googling. And with newsstand sales declining about 10% per year and free “public place” circulation shrinking, it’s becoming increasingly unlikely your target consumer has ever bought or even examined your magazine.
Trot out your best purple prose about “must-have articles and exclusive interviews,” and today’s consumer will reply, “Show me.” She’s still willing to shell out a few bucks for a well-written publication that’s attractively and conveniently packaged.
But to prove you’ve got something worth paying for, you may have to give her something free.
Other Dead Tree Edition commentaries on the magazine industry include: