Thursday, October 1, 2009

Why I Didn't Renew My Subscription

This year I've allowed the subscriptions to expire on about half the magazines I used to get. I just got yet another "last issue" begging me to re-subscribe for one of them. My reasons for dropping the mags are not economic--downturn or no, I still have as many dollars to spend on magazines as I had last year. Perhaps even more. I've got magazine dollars I'm not spending now that I'd really like to find a home for, but you, the magazine publishers and editors, aren't giving me any choices that I like.

So let me tell you why I've dropped your magazines:

Not enough content.

Yes, to save money you've cut your page counts. However, you all tell me about your fine web sites with extended coverage and deeper insights.

So, following this logic, I should be happy to go to the restaurant, find half what I expect on my plate, but be pleased that they feature a wonderful web site telling me more about what they serve? Not likely.

I subscribed to almost 30 magazines last year. I'm down to about a dozen now. I don't visit the websites for any of them on a regular basis. None of them have a web site that's worth it. Besides, I don't subscribe to a magazine to get a web site. There's more web out there than I've got time to look at, available for free. And frankly, the magazine websites suck. There isn't one that draws me back.

The websites I visit repeatedly are web sites first. There's no print edition. I don't pay them money to view the sites, since I have to pay to get access to it (my ISP bills, my computer bills, my software bills.) The magazine websites that I'm not visiting regularly are poorly organized, have balky login processes, are overrun with ad content (even in the paid section) and generally are more trouble and less readable than the web sites that are first and foremost websites. Besides, when I'm paying for a magazine I'm paying you to put something on paper and deliver it to my mailbox. I want something I can hold in my hands and read without a computer, put on a shelf, tear pages out of for my coworkers, clip ads from for my contact files, or lay in a stack folded open to an article I plan to read later.

If I wanted to pay for a web site, there are some excellent ones out there that beat the tar out of any magazine's web site I've ever seen.

So, magazine folks, when you're thinking about cutting page count to cut costs, be aware that you're reducing the value of the only part of your product for which I'll pay. I pay handsomely for those who deliver what I do want, however. I have several subscriptions that cost significantly more than the industry norm. I pay it because they give me what I want. A magazine with plenty of content on paper. I subscribe to several magazines that are delivered from overseas. I put up with the delayed delivery schedule and extra mailing costs because nobody in North America delivers what they deliver.

This year, none of the magazines I dropped got dropped because of a shift in the editorial content. That's happened in the past. One magazine that I've been reading for over thirty years is walking the edge right now--their current leadership has introduced a political slant into a magazine that has been blessedly apolitical in the past.

Another magazine to which I was a charter subscriber has been trying to sell me on their wonderful new web site with all sorts of information that they aren't giving me in print. They're on the watch list, too. I'd hate to drop them, but if they don't put it in the magazine, it means nothing to me. I hope their staff figures this out, pronto. I don't buy magazines to get teaser ads for web content. If you're telling me about all the fine stuff that's not in the magazine, you're just telling me how valueless the print magazine is, and that's the only product you have that I'll pay for.

I'll pull your advertiser's ads to save their URLs for later. I won't do the same to read your articles.

I don't want your email newsletter. I couldn't care less about your web site. If you want to sell me a magazine, you'd better make it, and it alone, a product worth my time and money. Nothing else is going to get my dollars out of my wallet and into yours.

Controlled Circulation Magazines

Those of you who send me magazines for free aren't getting off easy, either. I've dropped about half of your subscriptions as well. Some of you are sending me your magazine anyway, and I roundfile it as soon as it arrives.

Cudos to one magazine for rediscovering their purpose, however. Design News magazine was a mainstay for me through the 80's. It has been less essential to me for the past 15 years or so, however, as it seemed to forget that it was an engineering magazine. I have let my subscription lapse during that time. Lately, however, I've been impressed with a turn-around I've seen, particularly in the most recent issue I read. They seem to have found out that they can print detailed technical articles to help engineers with actual design issues. I'm very happy with what I've seen and hope to see more of it.

The magazines that are most useful get read the earliest and most, and those are the magazines where I see the ads. Those are the ads that have a chance at telling me about a product that I can use, or research and recommend to my customers. In my business, I only buy in ones and twos. My customers buy by the thousands or more when they incorporate my designs into their products.

Now back to those magazines I'm not getting. First, there's that content thing. What you print needs to be something useful to me. Not a puff piece that's about as useful as what I find in an in-flight magazine. I want specifics, I want a voice of experience. I don't care if the author is with the manufacturer, some of the best information I get comes from such sources. Naturally I expect it to come from a source within the company that won't have to ask for help with long technical terms.

The second most popular reason for me not getting a controlled circulation magazine is that you don't send it to me when I sign up for it, and supposedly been approved. There are several that I'm getting emails about telling me I should be getting the mag, that I'm someone they want to get their mag, but when I sign up nothing shows up in my mailbox. There are several I&C and engineering mags that keep marketing me but, when I fill out the form, get the happy web page telling me I now have a sub, I never see a mag. But I do get more emails telling me I ought to sign up for a subscription. Time for your left hand to meet the right, people. That's the one that's cutting your own throats, by the way.

To all magazines, I can't emphasize enough:

Content, content, content. On Paper. If it's not in the magazine it doesn't exist.

Subscription based mags: Raise your rates if you have to--give me something worth money and I will pay for it.

Controlled Circulation: If the content is there, I and others like me will be, too. We'll be selling your advertiser's products when we put them in our designs.

Need a way to save money? Slash your web staff and server budget. All you need on the web is an introduction to your magazine and a subscription form. An article index can be useful sometimes. Anything else is wasted. Put the savings toward more paper.