Why is there a lengthy wait for new magazine subscriptions to begin?
April 27, 2005 3:14 AM   Subscribe

Why must I "wait 6-8 weeks for delivery" of a new magazine subscription?

I wonder why -- in this day and age -- it often takes so long for new print subscriptions to start. I can understand perhaps a month's latency to wait for the next printing/mailing cycle of a periodical, but much more than that seems a bit, er, extreme.
posted by skyboy to Media & Arts (8 answers total)
It usually comes before 6–8 weeks, in my experience. They are covering their asses. What happens when you submit your request just after the deadline for the June issue? Then you get the July issue instead. There's your eight weeks.

There is unlikely to be any commercial advantage to tightening up these cycles for the publisher—extra costs and little benefit.
posted by grouse at 3:59 AM on April 27, 2005

Best answer: For a long time now, publishers have typically outsourced printing and fulfillment to large data and marketing companies (e.g.: Neodata, that use antiquated large flat file db systems for managing subscriber rolls. Most of the time subscriber lists are cleaned (deduped) and batch updated only once per month at the most, so, depending on when in the cycle your request comes in, it could take as much as 6 or 7 weeks to get your name in the system. I first encountered these processes when I was working at MSFT in the early 90s, and when I was working at Ziff Davis in 2001, I found that things had not changed all that much in 10 years.
posted by psmealey at 4:54 AM on April 27, 2005

Figure two weeks for your letter to arrive at their end, and them to process the payment and have you updated on their subscriber week. Then up to a month for the next issue to come out that you're eligible for, plus it's shipping time. That's at least 6 weeks there. Might as well round it up a bit just so the customers don't hound you after the 42nd day.

After that I'm guessing it's just a popular meme, it's used for almost any sort of delivery, not just magazines.
posted by furtive at 7:12 AM on April 27, 2005

It's so that you're not pissed when it does take that long, due to whatever delays.
This question was in a book called When Do Fish Sleep, which I recommend.
posted by klangklangston at 7:58 AM on April 27, 2005

Because monthly magazines typically go to press a few weeks before they come out, and then there's the possibility that you subscribed right after an issue was sent to press. So if you subscribe in June, right after the June issue has come out, you probably won't get on the subscriber list for the July issue, as it may have already been sent to press, thus your first issue will be August's.

Some magazines will send you the current issue immediately when you sign up, so you get one right away, but you then might miss the next one.

Weeklies and bi-weeklies will probably still often take a couple issues to get going. While they come out more often, their lead time isn't necessarily much shorter except in the case of weekly news magazines.
posted by kindall at 9:43 AM on April 27, 2005

furtive - It is often used by companies that import or purchase large amounts of goods to sell directly to consumers. Many of those informercials you see are companies that wait until they get a certain amount of orders before placing their own order to the supplier. Six to eight weeks is often true in those cases.
posted by bh at 10:56 AM on April 27, 2005

This has been a problem for magazine distributors (and magazines themselves) for quite a while now. Many magazines have begun trying to combat this problem by sending along as many as two back-issues to subscribers when they first sign up (this is the case with WIRED). The problem that you run into is that subscriptions are a money-losing venture for magazines. The cost of postage and shipping is phenomenal.

When it comes to circulation numbers and advertising, what magazines are really interested is more subscribers or niche markets, both of which help them increase their revenue from advertising. In some cases you will find magazines sending free subscriptions without solicitation from customers (as in the case of Jane or Rolling Stone). That way they can call these people ``subscribers' on their circulation lists, the legality of which is questionable.

You may also have noticed the newstand cost of magazines dropping significantly and unbeleivable deals for subscriptions (as in buy one year, get one year free -- or get the whole damn thing free for that matter). This is because, as I said, it's advertising that makes the money.

The trend now really has been to move away from high-circ magazines (unless, of course, you are somebody like TimeWarner or Hearst who can afford to send mags to millions of people -- those guys will only launch a new magazine if it can sell over 500,000 subscriptions at the least). Advertisers are starting to realize that if they go for mags that target a smaller, more niche audience they are more likely to reach the kinds of people who will buy their products. Plus, ads in lower-circ magazines tend to be less expensive.

Ok, I got off on a bit of a rant there, but it's my industry, and I find the whole thing very fascinating. Somebody ask another magazine question
posted by ebeeb at 10:35 PM on April 27, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks, all. I read many blogs a day but also adore certain well-written and -designed magazines -- my home has stacks of them. (I'm already familiar with the circ model, and that advertising dollars, not subscription fees, really drive most publications.)

FWIW, I'm entering week 5 waiting for Alpinist -- and yes, I'm willing to cut them extra slack since they're quarterly, but they're supposed to start me from the last-published issue so I'm a bit, "wha?" Useless trivia: Looks like they use some company named Kable as their fulfillment provider.

What's been hard for me to fully get over is the awkward experience of it all: I can get really excited to buy a magazine, order a new subscription over the Web in a matter of minutes, and then have to wait what seems an interminably long time for the "product" to arrive. Feels out of place in an Amazon Prime kind of world, y'know?

But, I'm sure the newsstand down the street would be happy to sell me another hit while I'm waiting for my subscription to kick in...
posted by skyboy at 6:01 AM on April 28, 2005

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