Annals of Magazine Circulation: “Please Quit Screwing Loyal Subscribers”

By Jack Limpert

The mail today offered Better Homes and Gardens for $6 a year or three years for $11. The $11 rate also included three free gifts—two cookbooks and a book about storage solutions.

The New Yorker, on the other hand, recently wanted me to renew my subscription for $99.99 a year. Or two years for $179.99.

That seemed high—last November 30, on Cyber Monday, the New Yorker offered two one-year subscriptions for $69.99. I paid that for subs for each of our two daughters and for $5 extra Conde Nast added subs to Vanity Fair. At $99.99 a year I decided to let my New Yorker subscription lapse.

But I miss the magazine. If you go on the internet, Amazon offers the New Yorker for $69.99 a year, with some sites I’d never heard of offering two years for $69.99.

On the internet I also saw a blog post (titled “Dear Magazines: Please quit screwing loyal subscribers”) from Doc Searls, a Harvard man, who called the New Yorker last fall when he realized he had been charged $99.99 a year on an automatic renewal. The New Yorker responded by offering him a year for $59.95.

I don’t want to wait until this year’s Cyber Monday on November 28 so I’ll probably do the Amazon sub to the New Yorker at $69.99. High but it’s a great magazine.

One of my other favorite magazines is Sports Illustrated. When I subscribed maybe 18 months ago, my subscription cost $39.95 a year. When it came up for renewal they wanted $54 a year. That seemed a harsh penalty for being a subscriber so I let the subscription lapse. I missed the magazine so recently entered a new subscription for $29.95 a year and they also gave me a free Green Bay Packers sweatshirt.

I also like the Atlantic and it wants me to renew at $24.95 a year. On the internet a new subscription is $24.95 a year.

That’s the right way to treat subscribers.

Update: An 4/17 email  headlined “An offer we think you’ll love” from Conde Nast offered a year of the New Yorker for $69.99. Also Allure for $12, Architectural Digest for $20, bon appetit for $12, Conde Nast Traveler for $12, Glamour for $12, Golf for $12, GQ for $12, Self for $12, Vanity Fair for $12, Vogue for $12, Wired for $12.
The Washingtonian, where I edited for many years, started in 1965. It’s not easy to start a paid circulation magazine, and the Washingtonian offered charter subscribers a year’s subscription for $3 with the promise that they could renew it at that price for as long as the subscriber and the magazine survived.

I came to the magazine in 1969, and sometime in the early 1970s we had a publisher who was unhappy that we’d made that $3 a year offer because those subscriptions were so low priced that they couldn’t be counted as paid circulation. (The Audit Bureau of Circulation then mandated that any sub sold for less than half the normal rate could not be counted as paid circulation.)

The publisher sent out a letter with charter subscriber renewals pleading with people to pay more—I think $7 a year.

In the best tradition of editorial independence, all of us in editorial told the charter subscribers we knew to just pay the $3 a year. The magazine promised it and we should live up to it.

It’s now 50 years since the Washingtonian started and we still have 1,978 charter subscribers. The Merrill family has owned the magazine since 1979 and they’re happy that the 1,978 charter subscribers and the magazine are still doing well.

Speak Your Mind