Why so expensive?
July 25, 2011 9:33 PM   Subscribe

What's the deal with magazine prices?

A couple weeks ago I had forgotten to bring my book with me, I was in a rental car so I had no emergency book, and I needed something to read. I went to a grocery store to see what they had, didn't see any books that looked promising, and slid over to the magazine racks. All the ones I saw had list prices that were $8-10. What!?

I haven't read magazines regularly in a couple years and knew the price on the back was always higher than the price you get with a subscription, but seriously, when did buying two issues at a store cost the same as two years of getting them delivered to you?
posted by Evilspork to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
People read more on the Internet and their phones and eReaders. Magazines are dying. They still want to make money.
posted by k8t at 9:36 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


A few years ago, a lot of new magazines decided not to run ads, and instead set their prices higher to compensate.

When the older, ad-based magazines saw that, the message was loud and clear: People were willing to pay way more. And now they're all expensive, ads or not.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:42 PM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Magazine are often impulse purchases, easy entertaining reading. (Especially in airports.)
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:53 PM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Subscribers are cash in the bank, because they determine the rates that can be charged for ads. If you're buying a magazine off the shelf, you're at best an afterthought for the publisher -- unless you fill in one of the fly-ins and subscribe -- and at worst, you're there to pay whatever impulse premium they can get from you. See also: the $1.99 20oz soda when a two-litre bottle is $1.25.
posted by holgate at 9:54 PM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


Depends on what kind of magazine you're getting and where it's from (i.e. foreign country) too. The more specialized it is, the more it costs.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:57 PM on July 25, 2011


The magazines I buy (music magazines and gaming magazines) come with DVDs or CDs, so that bumps up the price.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:59 PM on July 25, 2011


You are paying for convenience. Ad rates are for eyeballs in certain demographics so they will essentially give you a subscription for the price of postage, but if you want to read one at the airport or at the grocery, they know you are not going to be a regular purchaser that way and they know if you are buying there, you are likely to be willing to pay up.

I read mine at the library or on line.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:13 PM on July 25, 2011


Subscriptions are cheap because having your personal info is money to them. They sell their address lists to like-minded companies. Subscribe to "Bride?" Your mailbox mysteriously fills up with catalogs for wedding products. Your address plus your demographic info is worth enough $ to magazine publishers they can afford to lure subscribers with dollar-an-issue deals.
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:29 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Your eyeballs are worth less to the companies that advertise in magazines if they do not know who you are - so they pay less for them and the magazines choose to make up the shortfall with a higher sticker price.

Some magazines are probably also veblen goods - your advert packed copy of Vogue would damage its sales where it to discount its price.

As an aside, I believe that the size of discount given to subscribers in the US is way higher than it is in most other countries (UK for example). I am not quite sure if this is due to market size, editorial policy or legal restrictions.
posted by rongorongo at 2:37 AM on July 26, 2011


Magazine publishing is dying, raising prices is the answer (in their humble opinion), there's more overhead involved in selling non-subscription product, including shelf space, bulk delivery, store returns, etc.

When I worked at B&N, I once rang up a photography magazine that cost $24.99. Holy crap, that's the price of a hardcover book. And yet, someone bought it.
posted by litnerd at 4:37 AM on July 26, 2011


Lovecraft In Brooklyn: "The magazines I buy (music magazines and gaming magazines) come with DVDs or CDs, so that bumps up the price"

What you mean is that the 25 cent plastic circle glued on the front bumps up the perceived value so they can get away with charging even more.

rongorongo: "As an aside, I believe that the size of discount given to subscribers in the US is way higher than it is in most other countries (UK for example)."

Things seem highly discounted in the UK too. What sort of offers do you get in the US?
posted by turkeyphant at 5:42 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


What sort of offers do you get in the US?

Eighty percent off news stand price. You?
posted by IndigoJones at 5:48 AM on July 26, 2011


Wait, what kinds of magazines were these? An issue of the New Yorker is, what, $5.99? The Economist is $6.99. And last I checked, most of the Condé Nast titles (Vanity Fair, Glamour, etc.) were about $5.

For $8-$10, you were probably not looking at the regular weekly or monthly issues of non-specialized magazines. (This doesn't apply if the magazine is a specialty music or gaming magazines, which have crazy-high list prices.)

You were probably looking at either bookazines (typically they have slightly thicker cardboard covers) or SIPs (special interest publications). These are extra issues that carry the magazine's logo and are extensions of the brand. They are also almost always old, repackaged content organized by topic (e.g., "Cooking for Two" rather than just general cooking for Cook's Illustrated, "Small Bathroom Remodels" from Better Homes and Gardens.) These issues do not go to subscribers; they are exclusively sold on the newsstand and carry a hefty price tag. The thinking is that if you are looking for a publication that is ONLY about bathroom remodeling, it's worth more to you than if you're looking for a mishmash of topical home and garden content for July, which is what you'd find in the regular issue of Better Homes & Gardens.

While subscribers are, of course, the bulk of any magazine's circulation, it's incorrect to say that newsstand doesn't matter. Circulation is the long game, the backbone of ad sales strategy. But ad buyers are restless and love a hot streak. If your newsstand sell-through is terrific (75 percent or something), you're going to do better than if you have a sturdy subscriber base and a consistent newsstand sell-through in the high 30s. And magazine success is measured in ad pages, not in subscribers.

So, even if your circ is something like 1.2 million and you're only selling 40,000 newsstand issues, those 40,000 issues are valuable for convincing advertisers that you have a viable product and bumping your ad page numbers for the next few months.

Newsstand has another key benefit: Those several thousand newsstand copies are unbelievably valuable advertising tools. Think of how many magazine covers you see: Those are all mini-ads for the magazine's brand. Every month, they get to show you a new little billboard about what their brand represents and what they have to offer you.

I'm not bullish on journalism in general (dying industry, etc), but magazines haven't taken nearly the hit that newspapers have. Magazines are, as an industry, suffering from the general softening of the ad market that's a result of the US's terrible economic situation at the moment. The collapse of the subprime mortgage market and the real estate bubble was horrible for lifestyle magazines across the board; if nobody is buying new houses, nobody is buying the windows you're trying to sell them by buying ad pages. Thus the folding of Gourmet, Cookie, Domino, and, most recently, ReadyMade. However, subscription and circulation numbers aren't too bad, relatively speaking. The industry is suffering from a profit-hungry business model that requires continuous growth (which explains some of the deep discounting of subscriptions, for example) and has caused some publications to make unsustainable choices.

But to say that print is dead, which is why we're all paying so much more isn't exactly right.
posted by purpleclover at 7:24 AM on July 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


Most women's fashion magazines still seem to be around $4, so this isn't with all the magazines, if anyone hasn't looked at them lately and was wondering if this was true all around.
posted by bizzyb at 7:26 AM on July 26, 2011


(Oh, and bookazines generally don't have ad pages.)
posted by purpleclover at 8:24 AM on July 26, 2011


IndigoJones: "What sort of offers do you get in the US?

Eighty percent off news stand price. You
"

A quick Google found several magazines offering between 40%-80% off shop prices as well as several shorter subscriptions (3 issues only) for about 90% off. Overall, it looks like the situation isn't all that different.
posted by turkeyphant at 8:40 AM on July 26, 2011


I believe that the size of discount given to subscribers in the US is way higher than it is in most other countries (UK for example).

That's mostly true. You'll find a decentish discount for about a third on Private Eye, which is fortnightly and about as unglossy as a magazine can get; in that situation, having subs in the bank clearly helps the ad card. Other non-glossies on shoestring budgets like the LRB have a similar approach; on the flip-side you have Monocle offering subs at a fixed worldwide rate that's a premium over the cover price.

That's partly self-fulfilling: subscriptions have never been hugely popular for glossy mags because there's never been much of a discount, so the magazines have been put together for shelf sales, and -- reflecting purpleclover's excellent comment -- advertisers use shelf sales as their big metric for eyeballs and audience. You might subscribe to specialist low-circ magazines or foreign imports where the distribution is sketchy, but otherwise it's hardly an inconvenience to buy it at a shop.
posted by holgate at 8:46 AM on July 26, 2011


Wait, what kinds of magazines were these? An issue of the New Yorker is, what, $5.99? The Economist is $6.99. And last I checked, most of the Condé Nast titles (Vanity Fair, Glamour, etc.) were about $5.

The magazine I bought was Maximum PC, a normal non-special monthly issue, no CD/DVD, no bag, and it was $8.99. The others I looked at were PC Magazine, PC Gamer, etc. I admit I didn't look in the current-news (Time, US Weekly, etc.) of the rack.
posted by Evilspork at 3:27 PM on July 26, 2011


The magazine I bought was Maximum PC, a normal non-special monthly issue, no CD/DVD, no bag, and it was $8.99. The others I looked at were PC Magazine, PC Gamer

Ah, you ran into the issue of niche publications.

They're expensive for two reasons. One is that that they have a specialized audience who is willing to pay more on the newsstand (see also the $25 photography magazine mentioned upthread). The other reason is that they have a narrow pool of potential advertisers, so they need to make more money from newsstand sales and subscribers. Think about it: The wider the scope of what you cover in your magazine, the more different kinds of ads you can sell. For example, People magazine, the granddaddy of general-interest magazines, covers celebrity gossip, fashion, food, all kinds of media (movies, tv, music), general news. That means they can sell ads to: clothing companies, fragrance companies, media companies, food companies, etc. They're a genius format where you can sell an ad to Beyonce's record company and Lunchables for the same issue.

If you're a magazine about PCs, you can sell ads about ... technology. That's mostly it. And many, many, many of the ad dollars out there are from, like, food companies (think Kraft), clothing companies (from Old Navy to Gucci), etc. Google and Dell and Intel or whatever (this is, frankly, out of my wheelhouse; I'm not sure who tech mags' big advertisers are) do not generally market themselves by buying print ads; they're not a good way to show off their products. So you have to make up the difference somehow.

It wasn't until I worked in the magazine biz that I understood that there aren't so many fashion and food magazines because Americans have an insatiable need for fashion and food: It's because that's where the ad dollars can support glossy mags. Food and clothes and perfume companies have a model that throws tons of money at marketing via print ads, thus we have magazines with that kind of content. (Also, "special music issues" or "summer entertaining issues" and those kinds of themes are usually ploys to sell ads; they're not generally themed for the sake of the editorial content. The editorial follows as stuff to hang around ads.)

There are exceptions, of course. Cook's Illustrated and Consumer Reports, for example, don't accept ads, but that's why they're such sticklers about making you buy access to their websites; they are truly selling their content. (That's why they're also relatively expensive to buy on the newsstand and to subscribe to.)
posted by purpleclover at 4:24 PM on July 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


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