On paidContent, Gregory Galant suggests a way that the magazine industry could help itself stay afloat that does not involve making an iPad app. He points out that in its focus on digital, the industry seems to be ignoring certain other aspects of the overall magazine customer service experience—most notably the subscription process.

Galant reports that his own experience resubscribing to a magazine involved being billed on an actual physical invoice that came in the mail. “In Japan you can buy a coke from a vending machine with your phone,” Galant points out. “The magazine industry’s still mailing invoices?”

While other digital services provide near-immediate gratification, Galant says, the magazine industry still seems to be stuck in an age where it can take up to five weeks to start filling a new subscription.

It’s time for the magazine industry to take a page from companies like Netflix (NSDQ: NFLX) and Spotify: charge by the month, require a credit card, auto-renew payments and let people cancel anytime.

Subscriptions in this modern style are fueling impressive revenue growth of companies serving a wide variety of consumers and corporate clients, including Dropbox, GigaOM, Birchbox, 37signals, JibJab and MailChimp. (My company recently adopted this model by introducing a professional version of Muck Rack.)

He then provides a number of reasons why magazines should do it, too, including the psychological advantage of monthly fees and being able to cancel at any time, no need for yearly renewals, and being able to devote the attention that did go to maintaining yearly subscriptions to finding other ways to improve the experience.

I think Galant’s advice makes a great deal of sense. There are a lot of companies that have been charging by the month in this way—not just Netflix, but your local cable company, utility company, phone company. Companies that provide services. Magazines have tended to be considered more of a good, and undoubtedly the companies didn’t want the extra costs that monthly billing would have entailed.

But with the rise of information technology, magazines (and for that matter newspapers) are coming to seem more like an information service that gets you the information either in bits or on paper, and perhaps they should start charging that way.


  1. This idea is so obvious, it’s like it’s been hiding in plain sight. On top of switching to more of a service-based model a la Netflix, If magazines did away with subscription cards — perhaps only had one per issue with a QR code and a built-in link to an existing online store, say Amazon or iTunes, imagine how many people would say “oh, I’ll pay $1.50 a month for this.” Rather than asking folks to commit $20 or $30 for an annual or multi-year subscription up front, they’d have the impulse shopper, the lazy one who forgets about that $1.50 or $2.00 charge to their card every month, essentially locked down for life. Brilliant.

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