A Netflix of Magazines?

Folio reports that Time Inc. is starting a new magazine-subscription service called Maghound that sounds a bit like Netflix’s movie model:

Maghound.com allows consumers to choose titles from a variety of publishers for mix-and-match “subscriptions” where they pay one monthly fee and have the ability to switch titles at any time. Unlike traditional subscriptions, members aren’t locked in their memberships and can cancel whenever they wish. Ventresca says that Maghound.com offers “flexibility, choice, control, and personalization.”

Will it work? Here’s what’s interesting to me about this model:

1. One magazine publisher has built a distribution channel to sell not only its own magazines but those of other publishers as well. There’s an obvious efficiency at work but will Conde Nast, e.g., really be happy to put an extra dollar in Time Inc.’s pocket for every Conde Nast subscription it sells?

2. I don’t sense that magazine readers are dying to swap subscriptions very often. Part of the appeal of receiving a magazine is knowing your way around its format, its style, its idioms. Of course I may be totally wrong about that; I order new magazine subscriptions all the time and inevitably hate them after four issues. Also, the model doesn’t suffer if people don’t swap: they pay the same regardless, and it’s less work for Maghound if they don’t swap.

3. The magazine industry is hardly a world-beater these days, but magazines seem to be holding up far better than newspapers in the face of the internet. According to the Magazine Publishers of America, circulation at the top 100 magazines rose 1.9 percent from 2006 to 2007. Newspaper circulation, meanwhile, is falling — in some cases hard and fast.

This disparity probably makes sense when you consider that a lot of magazine content is more appealing on glossy paper than newspaper content is on newsprint, which means that a computer screen is a worse substitute for magazines than for newspapers. Also, newspapers are far more dependent than magazines on classified ad money, and that’s one form of revenue that’s been making a fast and furious migration to the internet.

To me, one of the biggest advantages of something like Maghound is far more prosaic: having one channel through which to handle all your magazine subscriptions, rather than having to hassle with that constant flood of mail from every magazine, reminding you 4 or 6 times that your subscription will be expiring in a mere 12 months.

(Hat tip: Romenesko.)


RUBBA

There's more than enough news available online for free. Articles on specific topics that interest me come daily via e-mail in a "Google Alert". Just set the topic and any time, any where, it's published on-line, you're sent the link.

pharbor

For what it's worth, Condé Nast allowed me to switch my New Yorker subscription to one of its other publications without a fee. I believe they factored in the length of my subscription remaining and credited that toward another full-year subscription. Not quite the "change it monthly" formula being offered here, but an option if, like comment 5 notes, the New Yorker just gets to be too much.

Garbanzo

To Dubner's first point about sharing distribution channels with competitors, this is already common practice. Several big magazine publishers run magazine distribution outfits that already do this (Time Inc., American Media, and Hachette among them).

Joan Bartos

This could potentially be a great idea. I think first a distinction should be made between those magazines that are primarily visual (many art magazines), those in which the written text prevails, and those that are a mix (most magazines).

As an environmentalist, my first response is to encourage the use of online zines. Traditional printed glossy magazines are devastating to the environment and their recycling possibilities are limited.

I initially liked the idea of being able to choose articles from magazines but then I wonder if that would limit the dispersion of new ideas and information as we'd all probably be likely to choose articles with which we have some familiarity or about which we have some curiousity.(But then we already do this consciously or unconsciously with printed mags.)

Given our human propensity to respond to the written word combined with the seductive visual, I am inclined to favor online articles that feature both the visual and printed guts of an article in an abreviated form and allow the selection from different sources (currently known as magazines).

For the sake of our environment, we need to wean ourselves from our addiction to our printed glossies. Take a good book (preferably recycled, used) on your next trip to the beach. Your responsible environmental actions may insure that there's a beach to which you can return in the future.

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toxicroach

I'd sign up. It'd be pretty nice to be able to do mini subscriptions to see if you really like it, and I'm sure they have an option to buy a subscription so you can keep the main channels open to new magazines.

Warren

Clever idea. I liken this to the money back offers we see so often. Most people never take advantage of a money back guarantee - but many feel it gives them an option.

This model takes advantage of the fact that most subscribers will rarely change a subscription, but knowing they can will likely drive them here than to the traditional model.

If the cost is about the same - why wouldn't you go this route?

ordinary joe

Check out The Week magazine. Its tag lines are right on target: "all you need to know about everything that matters" and " the best of the US and international media". It's a Readers Digest type compendium with very little advertising. Its a good read and it saves wasted magazine paper stock.

Matthew Sachs

@AaronS There is a service that's working on doing this per-article as opposed to per-issue -- magcloud.com . The founder has a blog post announcing the service at http://powazek.com/posts/984 .

Daz

"Unlike traditional subscriptions, members aren't locked in their memberships and can cancel whenever they wish."

My understanding is that traditional subscriptions can be canceled at any time.

John

I don't think it has been mentioned. Magazines are an ecological disaster. I don't think it is necessary to go into the many reason's why this is the case.

JeremyB

Not too long ago, this very blog had a link under "Hassle Avoidance" to Brijit (www.brijit.com). I know this because, well, I founded Brijit, and was pretty proud to make the grade here. The site is basically the independent service that everyone here seems to be looking for. Tivo for magazines, Reader's Digest for the Web -- pick your analogy! The site's currently on hiatus while we get our financing in order, but the 16,000 abstracts we've produced to date are still up. Please check it out, and let me know what you think.

Thanks,
Jeremy Brosowsky
founder & CEO, Brijit

Jon Morris

I'm not sure I agree with the comparison to Netflix. Netflix's one major selling point is 'return the dvd whenever you want'.

MagHound seems to be just a centralized system for organizing subscriptions. It may also be resting on the flawed assumption that people want to mix up their magazine choices every month. I thought the whole point of a magazine subscription was that you were receiving a publication weekly/bi-weekly/monthly whatever about a topic you were interested in.

Mike

I like the idea all around, and also commenter #1's extension to mixing and matching articles. Would be great to still have it be something that can be delivered physically, so you can take it to the beach or on the train. I think that may be increasingly realistic these days, what with the extent to which typesetting and such publishing/distribution details can be automated through software. Would be best if they could keep the graphics intact along with it, e.g. so I could subscribe to the New Yorker's cartoons even when there's nothing else worth reading in the issue.

Even so, I think the even bigger prize, as nailed by Dubner, is getting rid of those annoying subscription reminders. I once got a subscription reminder from New York mag when my subscription wasn't even half over yet. I promptly called them up and cancelled it early that day. The magazine itself wasn't great to begin with, but the thought of 8 more months of gimmicky covers and misleading letters pretending my subscription was about to run out? That was enough to turn me off it entirely.

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Roger

I want it. Now. Give it to me.

Managing magazine subscriptions is very, very painful and I don't want to do it anymore

Chris

Here's a better Netflix idea. Netflix for Kindle (or other ebook readers). Monthly subscription and I can hold a set number of books on my device, but can change whenever I like.

B K Ray

I currently hold three magazine subscriptions, The New Yorker, which puts waaay to much of its content online and offers little benefit for subscription and it is a subscprition I am beginning to regret having. I love their content, but there is so much of it that is available for free, what is the point in paying?

On the other hand, Harpers offer more online with a subscription than without, so the subsciption is more than worth the cost.

My other subscription, Macworld,is a digital subsciption and there are some benefits (like embedded links) and some consequences (the software is not as good as could be and it is not as portable as one would like, but that may change with iPhone software).

So there are models that the internet undermines a normal subscription or enhances it. I really love the Harpers, but the New Yorker, well they do not make me feel special for having paid.

Audient

At first I liked this idea, because I enjoy Sports Illustrated, but only during football season. The thing is, what would I swap with it the rest of the year? Nothing comes to mind. So, I guess I'll stick to reading it at waiting rooms.

Christopher

I can't believe too many people would be interested. What I would like much more is the ability to purchase a bunch of individual issues from myriad magazines. Let me check off Time July 2008, Wired June and July 2008, etc. Make it affordable.

Sort of like an online newsstand. I see nothing like that out there.

I have very few subscriptions, but when I have downtime at, say, an airport- I love picking up 2-3 magazines that interest me. None of them would I subscribe to.

Zach

I think another reason magazines are having relatively more success than newspapers is that the articles are usually much longer (at least the feature articles). Reading short news clips on your computer screen is fine, but reading an 8-page magazine article on a computer is a less pleasant.

helen

I think it's a great idea.

More things I'd like to see:
If I could turn a weekly sub into a bi-weekly or monthly sub (i.e., something more manageable given other demands for my attention), I'd love it! I love the New Yorker. I can't keep up with it, and I hate all the paper build-up and waste - so I don't have a subscription.

I also think being able to opt out of a magazine after a month or two, and replace it with a different one would be pretty useful. If this swapping included access to back issues (subject to availability), I'd be even happier. (Esp. for non-news magazines, i.e., martha stewart living, sunset, cooking light, etc.)

Going to an I-tunes/music-downloading format to get just the pieces of a magazine you want is another distribution channel that I think complements the "whole magazine" approach. This is really better suited to digital delivery than hardcopy, whereas the whole-mag approach is a better fit for hardcopy. I don't think it's either-or.

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