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Reprinted from Laughing Bear Newsletter #135,Copyright © 2002 by Laughing Bear Press

One question I get often from visitors to the Laughing Bear web site is how much to charge for a magazine subscription. Let me note that these people are asking about the subscription rate for a popular magazine,not a literary or trade magazine. A popular magazine is one that could appeal to a large portion of the population. A literary magazine has a very small and specific niche circulation and a trade magazine has distribution limited to people within a certain profession.

So the question I get is how much to charge for a generic,but popular,magazine. It should also be noted that no one ever tells me what the magazine will be about,presumably because I will steal the idea. Which,of course,I would.

Anyway,given absolutely no useful information other than that this is going to be a popular,and hopefully very popular,generic magazine,the definitive answer to the question of how much to charge for a subscription is $14.95.

That may sound simplistic,but it is the only definitive answer possible. A far more insightful answer,though,is that it doesn’t make any difference what you charge for a magazine subscription because magazines aren’t made or broken by the money that comes in for subscriptions. In fact,just think of subscription revenue as the equivalent of the shipping and handling charges added to the price of a book that is bought by mail order.

That is not to say subscriptions are not important. Subscriptions and newsstand sales combine to make up circulation,and circulation is what brings in revenue in the form of advertising. The more people who read your magazine,the more you can charge for advertising space.

So,if the circulation is all important,and the subscription price really doesn’t matter,why not just give them away and let advertising pay for the whole thing?

Some trade magazines do that. The only requirement for a subscription is that a person fills out a questionnaire once a year describing their occupation in the trade.

The purpose of the questionnaire is to assure advertisers of plumbing tools that every person who receives the magazine is a plumber. Essentially the subscriber pays by providing the publisher with detailed personal information instead of money.

That doesn’t work so well with a popular magazine. If you give a plumbing trade journal to a plumber,there is a pretty good chance he’ll look through it.

If you give a generic popular magazine to a generic person,you have no such assurance. The only way to safely assume people are reading the magazine instead of housebreaking puppies is to charge them a token amount for it.

So why not charge what the magazine actually costs and keep the advertising for profit,or not bother with advertising? The answer here is,competition. No one is going to pay $129.95 a year for your magazine if they can get something similar for $14.95. And they can,because that is how the marketplace is.

For a popular,general interest magazine,people expect to pay between $9.95 and $19.95 for a 6 or 12 issue subscription. Since that amount of money per subscription will not cover the expenses of publishing the magazine,you may as well just split the difference,charge $14.95 and not give the price of subscriptions another thought.

Instead of asking how much to charge for a magazine subscription,the real concern should be how to charge $14.95 for a subscription without going broke.

About the Author:
Tom Person provides a comprehensive selection of publishing related resources and articles on the www.laughingbear.com website.You can also reach Tom via email [email protected]