The Magazine Sub Game Gets Ever More Creative

My wife Jean subscribes to a lot of food and cooking magazines so when I got a sub offer from Food & Wine I passed it on to her. She looked at it and said, “I think they made a mistake. They’re offering one year for $10, two years for $20, or three years for $20.”

No, they don’t make mistakes—an orange box says “LOCK IN SAVINGS Get 3 years for the price of 2.”

It is a new wrinkle in the magazine world’s ever more creative search for paid subscribers. Food & Wine once was an American Express magazine, then was sold to Time Inc., and now is part of Meredith.

If you pay the $20 with your order, you also get a FREE GIFT: Perfect Pairings—our favorite recipes and the ideal wine pairings.

Did the three years for $20 gimmick work? Yes.

Here’s an earlier post about how magazines are selling subs. The  New Yorker continues to push the half-price offer: 12 issues for $6 but still gives you no clue of how much you’ll be paying after 12 issues.

The “Final Notice” from the New Yorker says my subscription is about to run out and my express renewal savings let me renew at $99.99 for a year, saving up to 79 percent.

The $99.99 a year rate seems high—I got the current sub plus a gift subscription for less than that. So as with most magazines, it will save money to let the subscription lapse and see what deals are offered to new subscribers.

Recently I posted about Sports Illustrated offering me a subscriber-only low price to renew my subscription for $56.40 a year. But if you go the SI website the sub offer is two years for $39 and you also get your favorite NFL team’s jacket and t-shirt.

A month or so ago I got a snail mail offer to subscribe to the New Yorker for $25. Look closer and that’s for 25 issues, not a year, but the offer then does include 50 issues for $45.

Then the mail offer from the New Yorker to renew my subscription for $99.99 a year.

And then the New Yorker sent an email about a “Last-Minute Holiday Week Sale – Save 50% Off The New Yorker!” The cost? “Enjoy 12 weeks of the New Yorker for only $6—a savings of 50%.”

The 50 percent savings is based on its regular Internet offer of 12 weeks for $12.

So the offer is $6 for a 12-week subscription—then how much after 12 weeks? They don’t say, providing only this guidance:

Subscriber’s Automatic Renewal Feature:

Your subscription will be automatically renewed unless you tell us to stop. Before the start of each renewal, you will be sent a reminder notice stating the term and rate then in effect. If you do nothing, your credit/debit card or payment account will be charged or you will be sent an invoice for your subscription. You may cancel at any time during your subscription and receive a full refund for all unserved issues.

The subscriber finds out the rate in effect in 12 weeks with a reminder notice and then you’re charged that rate—probably $99.99 a year—unless you cancel.

This is a reverse of the normal magazine subscription strategy that asks you to do something to subscribe or renew. This approach locks you into a $99.99 a year rate if you do nothing. How easy do they make it to cancel? You have to try it to find out.

The bottom line: Once upon a time the editorial and circulation departments of magazines saw their readers as above average in intelligence. Editors may still think that but the circulation sides of magazines increasingly hope their readers are pretty dumb.

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