Conde Nast

John Gapper

The iPad and other tablet computers may be the future (or at least part of it) for US magazine publishers, but it is making them confront an awkward reality – they have in effect been giving away their product for years.

The US magazine practice of offering extremely cheap subscriptions – often working out to little more than a dollar a month for a glossy magazine – is not only problematic in itself but is creating big difficulties for their digital initiatives.

The problem was nicely expressed to Women’s Wear Daily by Charles Townsend of Conde Nast, the magazine group that publishes titles including Vanity Fair and Vogue:

“Why will consumers pay 180 bucks a month for TV programming they never watch, don’t know the brands of, have no interest in, and will [only] pay a dollar a month for a magazine subscription to Glamour? There’s gold in those hills somewhere,” Townsend said. “How do I mine it?”

Well, there is a simple answer to that. They only pay a dollar a month for Glamour because that is all that magazine publishers charge. They have given away cheap subscriptions in order to establish a high “rate base” to attract advertisers.