Dear Loyal Subscriber: We Have a Special Deal Just for You!

There was a time, a decade or so ago, when magazines saw their readers as smarter than average and richer than average, a combination that helped convince advertisers to buy ads. The circulation departments of monthly magazines typically offered introductory subscriptions at, say, $18 a year with the renewal rate rising to $29 a year, with the rates for weekly magazines at least double that. Most readers renewed. Successful magazines had renewal rates of around 75 percent, meaning three of four subscribers renewed.

Editors still see readers as smart people but magazine circulation departments increasingly see loyal readers as lambs to be fleeced.

Sports Illustrated as a case study: I’ve subscribed to SI for most of the last 50 years, thinking it was a wonderful mix of great photography and great writing.

Some history:

SI’s first issue appeared in 1954 and at its peak, in 2007, it had more than three million subscribers and was read by 23 million people. In 1990 it won a National Magazine Award for general excellence and SI’s publisher wrote:

It was a proud moment last week when for the second straight year, SI won the National Magazine Award for magazines with a circulation of one million or more. In announcing the award to 1,200 magazine editors, writers and publishers in Manhattan’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel, Osborn Elliott, former dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, which administers the awards, read this citation about SI: “Week by week, the magazine merely offers excellent photography, clean design and a collection of distinctive writerly voices as varied as any in American magazines.”

Equally kind were the words of John A. Limpert, editor of The Washingtonian magazine and a member of the panel of judges who recommended SI to ASME as this year’s winner. He said, “What really stands out at SI is that it is doing real journalism. There is good reporting that reflects a moral vision and the courage to take strong stands. We felt that the magazine is willing to be confrontational and tough, but it does this with an obvious and well-developed sense of fairness.”

A few weeks ago my issue of Sports Illustrated, which is due for renewal next June, arrived with a bright yellow cover wrap:

Free Bag With Paid Renewal!

Limited-Time Offer!

If you renew today, you’ll get a subscriber-only low price—but you have to act now.

ACT NOW! Get Your Free Gift.

The subscriber-only low price was “39 issues — Only $1.40 an issue —Save 66 percent.”

The math: 39 times $1.40 is $56.40 a year. A thank you deal for subscribers.

Go the SI’s website and they offer two years for $39—and you get your favorite team’s NFL jacket and t-shirt.

That’s how SI, and a lot of other magazines, now treat loyal subscribers.
Does the Washington Post  treat its loyal subscribers any better? Here’s a post from October about how the Post asks renewing subscribers to pay $703 a year while offering the paper to new subscribers for $100 a year.

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