Magazine buying may get an Internet-era makeover in September when Time Inc. launches Maghound, a service that promises to blend the convenience of subscriptions with the flexibility of newsstand sales.
Customers will pay a monthly fee for home delivery of the publications they want. But unlike with subscriptions, which typically run for fixed terms, users can go online and swap one title for another whenever they want.
“The magazine industry is a little challenged now” in circulation and ad sales, says Maghound Enterprises President Dave Ventresca. “It needs some innovation. And this is our best swing at it.”
He will begin with 300 consumer magazines. They’ll include Time’s most popular titles, including People, Sports Illustrated and Fortune. Although he won’t name others, he expects to have deals with Hearst, Hachette, Rodale, Condé Nast, Meredith, Source Interlink, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Reader’s Digest Association and Wenner Media.
“It’s a great concept,” says Patrick Taylor, spokesman for Meredith, which publishes Better Homes and Gardens and Ladies’ Home Journal. “We’re always looking for innovative ways to test our magazines with readers.”
Users will pay about $5 a month for three magazines, $8 for five, $10 for seven and $1 for each additional. About 10% of titles, including some weeklies, will cost more.
Consumers in tests liked the freedom to have titles match their changing tastes, he says. Someone who loves the outdoors could read about skiing in the winter and golf in the summer.
Swaps may not take effect immediately. But Ventresca says that customers will be able to see online when they can expect to see the last issue of a current choice and the first issue of a new one.
“We hear consumers say all the time, ‘I just signed up for this regular subscription, and I’m already receiving notices to renew,’ ” he says. “And, ‘I don’t know when my subscription is going to expire.’ And, ‘The publisher wants me to pay $18 next year, and I don’t know what I paid last year.’ Those headaches go away with Maghound.”
That’s an encouraging pitch at a time when investment bank Veronis Suhler Stevenson forecasts that consumer spending on magazines will decline through 2011 and advertisers are retreating.
“The economy as a whole is so bad, everything is getting clobbered,” says Steve Cohn, editor-in-chief of trade publication Media Industry Newsletter.
It may take awhile for advertisers and publishers to figure out how to account for the sales to Maghound customers. They will be reported as single-copy sales. So Maghound users won’t see Internet material that magazines reserve for subscribers.
Publishers get customers’ names but can’t barrage them with appeals to subscribe or sell the names to third parties. Time, though, may have the right to do so. “You never know what marketing partnerships we’ll want to do,” Ventresca says. (Reprinted from USA Today)