Search this site:


January 17, 2005 12:27 AM

Broken: Magazine subscription rates

Paul Schreiber points out that, for Performing Songwriter magazine, subscriptions are $25.95.

But gift subscriptions are only $19.95. He concludes: "Good thing I bought myself a 'present.'"


That's not broken, that's marketing. Somewhere right now there's probably a website that is offering free subscriptions to that magazine, and I bet if you pulled a random magazine off the shelf at Barnes and Noble you'd find subscription cards with the same sort of differential pricing.

They're counting on a few things: Some people subscribe at the full price. Some people sign up at whatever price and then renew at full price (and in fact you'll probably get another discounted offer to renew). All of those people think they're getting a great deal on the magazine even if no-one pays full subscription price ever. Lastly, using discounts to push people from newsstand buyers (occasional issues) to subscribers (every issue) lets them charge their advertisers more because their readership goes up.

At Electronics Boutique, you can buy a single copy of GMR Magazine for $4.50, or you can buy a used game discount card for $5.00 which includes a 6-month subscription to GMR. That's on purpose too.

Paul might think he one-upped the magazine, but he did what they expected him to do.

Posted by: mendel at January 17, 2005 07:47 AM

I concur. If the gift subscription does not come with strings attached, this is in no way "broken."

Posted by: Jay at January 17, 2005 08:56 AM

I'm sorry, but that is broken. You can argue marketing if you like, but I would assume any marketing person knows that advertising a "gift" subscription after the holiday season wouldn't be as profitable as lowering the price for everyone and marketing that.

I always enjoyed when some stores, like Eastbay, would sell gift cards worth more than you paid for them. Not much, but it's a discount :)

Posted by: Jon at January 17, 2005 08:58 AM

it seems to me like they are trying to suck more money out of the people who are too lazy to get info about the gift subscriptions

Posted by: Carl Winslow at January 17, 2005 11:29 AM

Mendel is correct, basically. Except for the part about free subscriptions. There aren't any free subscriptions for this magazine. Discounted, yes, but not free. In fact, if you want the lowest rate, you'll have to jump through some hoops:

- Join (it's a BMI website, and totally free)

- Download the Kauai Music Scholarship entry form (

- Write and record a song...just 1 song.

- send that song, along with 15 dollars, in to the scholarship entry address...

- This gets you a subscription and enters your song into the running for a free trip to hawaii.

- Even if you aren't one of the (5-10) winners, you effectively get a lower-than-otherwise-available discount rate on PS.

- You might get an email that you have to opt out of for the future, but that's the only bother you'll run into.

- 15 dollar subscription.

Other than this, 19.95 is the cheapest rate you'll find this magazine selling for publicly. Honestly, I'm not sure who goes and buys something without doing a little research into their purchase. That 19.95 subscription is 4 dollars worth of printing costs and 13 dollars or so worth of postal costs. We get a LOT of "self-gifts."

It's hardly "broken," though!


Posted by: Ben at January 17, 2005 11:39 AM

I thought of another example to emphasize how little subscription prices matter to a magazine publisher: I've got the current issue of Car and Driver on my desk. I paid $4.50 for it. The subscription card offers me a one-year subscription for $12 for twelve issues or $22 for 24 issues. At price points like that, $4 a year just doesn't *register*.

I don't know Performing Songwriter, but since they're adopting half of the industry-standard practice I'm assuming the other half lines up.

Posted by: rich at January 17, 2005 12:54 PM

Something else to consider, though. With newsstand sales, you do REALLY well to get over 10% buy-through rate. The average magazine loses a LOT of money on newsstand sales. It is only worth it because of the "presence" that they gain from buying space. Even the tabloids lose money on newsstand sales...The brand recognition is worth it, though. There are lots of intangibles in the periodicals business.

Posted by: Ben at January 17, 2005 04:23 PM

Just because it is a marketing tactic does not mean that it is not fundamentally broken.

Posted by: Maurs at January 17, 2005 04:30 PM

I'd have to say that someone spending 25 dollars on something that costs 20 dollars the next isle over in the grocery store is the "broken" party in the transaction.

"Fxing" this "broken" situation would result in all subscriptions costing the same amount...and I can tell you that it won't be the 19.95 rate that sticks. You could always call and complain!

Posted by: Ben at January 17, 2005 04:40 PM

Reminds me of an electronics store that advertised "all cassette decks on sale" a few years ago. The one I wanted showed only the normal price. Me: "What's the sale price for this one?" Sales: "It's right there on the card." Me: "But your sign says all decks are on sale." Sales: [very brief pause] "It's on sale for the regular price." He did not blush.

Posted by: Colin at January 20, 2005 03:12 PM

that's what "on sale" means, you know. ;)

Posted by: Ben at January 21, 2005 02:11 PM

on sale, as in "not just to look at"

what cheaters...

Posted by: bob at March 15, 2005 08:55 PM

Comments on this entry are closed

Previous Posts: