Tuesday, October 30, 2007

How Much Is A Magazine Worth? Not Much, Readers Say

PASTE magazine recently launched an interesting endeavor on the business side of journalism: a "pay what you want" model for a yearly subscription to the publication. The idea follows the moves of indie rockers Radiohead, who released their latest album In Rainbows in a similar fashion.

So for the next two weeks, both new subscribers and old readers can pay what they think an annual subscription is worth, starting at $1 with the sky as its ceiling ($19.95 is what a subscription normally runs). An interesting catch for any philanthropic readers: anyone paying more than the standard price will be thanked in print.

The theory? New readers mean more eyeballs total when they discover PASTE's content. The magazine says the model gives them insight into just how much their regular readers think the magazine is worth, but I fear they will be sorely disappointed.

The problem with this effort, to me at least, is that there is generally little perceived value of a magazine. A magazine comes without fail on a regular basis, leading readers to assume it is a part of their life.

Moreover, an ongoing stream of magazines costs much more than a single Radiohead album that is released every four years. Radiohead fans know that the band spends time in the expensive recording studio, noodling away at their masterpiece and posting pictures documenting the process over the course of a year. But few readers know who works on their magazine and how many that entails. The staff of a magazine -- as well as its headquarters -- are faceless to the average reader that doesn't live in New York.

Basically, it comes down to this: their daily work is something that everyone with a 9 to 5 has to do, so why should the reader pay for it?

Aren't advertisers enough? I hear the reader asking.

Add a complete lack of reference to how much it physically costs to print a magazine and it seems this move just undercuts every effort of the glossy industry to establish the $5 benchmark.

Now I'm no glossy defender, but it seems to me that PASTE is getting way ahead of itself, mimicking a trend that they should be just covering. Hell, even O, The Oprah Magazine would have trouble with this.

Expect this to end -- soon. It's just not a good model for this industry; there's no middle man to cut out. A true comparison would be freelancers directly selling their work to readers. And that is yet unforeseen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's obviously a cute gimmick, for which I commend Paste.

Reading too much into this seems a bit silly -- controlled-circ and similar pubs have been giving away their magazines for free for years, surviving on more lucrative display-ad revenue.