Monetizing, not serving

At the end of August, Adweek's Lucia Moses broke the news that People magazine was "preparing a new subscription model". Details were scarce, and I held off writing about it until more was known. While I waited, I tried to imagine what "a new subscription model" might look like.

Perhaps it would reward long-time readers with special access to exclusive events, as the New Yorker does (though not specifically tied to subscriber longevity). Maybe People would recognize longevity with a charter subscription rate, so that the loyal supporters would have a chance to feel a bit different from the folks who just signed on last week.

How about expedited delivery? Amazon does it. Heck, maybe the new subscriptions would even come with a money-back guarantee. How crazy would that be?

All of these ideas started with one thought: recognizing the value of the reader. That seemed like the natural way to reconfigure a new subscription model.

A week after Moses broke the news, People unveiled its new model. Here's what it included:

  • No matter how long you've been subscribing, you can renew for $112 a year.
  • You can get print or digital edition for $112, or print and digital for $132 a year
  • You can buy a year's access to its CelebFood or CelebWatch apps for $10. Then again, so can anyone else.
  • If you have $200 to spare, you can splurge on print, digital, a half-year's subscription for a friend (great rate base management there) and "intermittent gift boxes designed by the editors"

People managing editor Larry Hackett told the New York Times, “We are upending our subscription model.” To which I say: No, you are not. You'll do that when you start treating your core readers as members of a community.

A bit of disclosure: I worked for Time Inc. from 1983 to 1995; from 1987 to 1989, I worked on People magazine. Although I have my own thoughts about what Time Inc. should be doing to improve, everything in this post is based on published reports. Whatever I knew in 1989 is unlikely to offer much value these days.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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