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« Magazines, Newspapers & ePub pricing madness

Some current subscription rates:

The Economist:

New York Times:

Time magazine:

Why the craziness? These publishers want me to pay more for the electronic version than the printed one, even though their marginal costs are lower. Publishers are so worried about protecting their paper publishing business that they are hobbling the digital one in ways that make no sense in terms of their overall business and especially in terms of their future.

I didn’t just look up publications that happen to be crazy. The first two are publications I like and enjoy reading and would like to subscribe to. I don’t want the printed versions, which pile up in my home and use up resources for insufficient value (to me, anyway). I want to get the digital versions. I am perfectly willing to pay a “fair” price. Time was the first other big periodical that came to mind, and did not surprise me in having an equally crazed pricing model.

But these sorts of pricing decisions just piss me off, and leave me feeling that the publishers are trying to use digital-​only revenue to prop up their failing paper-​based businesses. As a would-​be digital-​only subscriber, I feel exploited. Or I would if I actually gave them my money… which I won’t do under these conditions.

End result of this kind of pricing? Those who continue it will find their market share eaten by those who don’t make that mistake. They will find competitors who either are perfectly willing to let their digital business take over some of their print business, or just don’t have a printed paper business to worry about.

Just as I finished writing this piece, I found an article that sums up the problem nicely:

Print media businesses are so worried about cannibalization that they are shooting themselves in their heads. I hope it stops before we lose some fine publications, or they become shadows of their former selves.


Yes, I call them “print media businesses,” because that is how they are behaving: at some level they have not figured out that they need to become simply “media businesses.”

Yes, I’m omitting some details and extra options. For exmaple, the NY Times offers a discount on the first two months of digital, and cheaper digital-​only options are available from NYT as well, but those offer trimmed-​down access choices instead of allowing people access from whatever device they want. Still, the all-​digital version that is equivalent to the digital options the print subscriber gets is more expensive, as best as I can tell. Without getting the paper copy, whose price includes home delivery.

Finally, I kept on looking, and sure enough, there are publications that have sane policies in this area. For example:

Seattle Times:

I’m voting with my pocketbook.

3 commentsto “Magazines, Newspapers & ePub pricing madness”

  • May 2, 2011
    Richard Fink wrote

    Thanks for publishing these fees and putting the NYTimes subscription rate into perspective.
    Something I didn’t do in the post on my blog about how I feel about the NYTimes subscription.
    Very interesting to see that they are not the only publisher to have lost touch with reality.
    It’s a psychological phenomenon, it really is. Among many in the copyright industries, there seems to be the notion that, no matter what, they are entitled to an income stream. Period. Not enough advertising revenue? Well, the readers will just have to pay and that’s all there is to it!

  • May 2, 2011
    Mike Perry wrote

    Quite a few things look like “madness” on the outside, but that doesn’t mean they’re not without reasons. The problem may not lie as much with publishers as with advertisers who distrust the value of ads in digital publications. If advertisers are willing to pay more to subsidize a print subscription than a digital one, a paper-​plus-​print subscription for less than a purely digital one makes economic sense.

  • May 3, 2011
    Thomas Phinney wrote

    Mike has an interesting point. If the decrease in ad revenue per person for digital compared to print is greater than the cost of printing an extra copy, it might make economic sense to charge as much or more for the digital subscription.

    Of course, that leads to questions of whether the Seattle advertisers have a completely different point of view, or why else the Seattle Times approach differs so greatly….



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