Pay To Play?

It’s strange how some traditions begin. In the world of consumer magazines, the publisher’s revenue is derived from three sources: advertising, subscriptions and newsstand sales. We think nothing of paying for our magazines even if it is a highly reduced price from a subscription.

In the world of business and medical publications, most rely exclusively on advertising. Through a system called “controlled circulation”, readers “qualify” themselves by filling out a form or answering questions over the phone that determine that they are indeed part of the target audience that publication pledges to reach for its readers. There are even outside auditing companies that make sure this happens correctly.

Now as advertisers bail, the walls are closing in on many of these publications. They have no other sources of income. Oh sure, they can cut their frequency of issue from 12x to 6x or 6x to quarterly but what if you really like reading the publication and find it has useful information for your business but it is wilting under the pressure of this economy. If it were on the newsstand, you would buy a copy to help support them. But how do you support a dying business publication (short of advertising)?

One publisher has chosen a path so obvious you might ask yourself why others have not considered his solution. He simply asked his loyal readers to cough up a few bucks (like a subscription) to help him survive and publish another day. Although this publisher has a unique magazine with a distinct point of view and some very loyal readers (including yours truly), it will be very interesting to see what comes of his plea.

Many trade magazines are boring and seem to survive simply to provide a forum for their advertisers (readers be damned). Good luck to them ever trying to ask readers to support them with their wallets. Just wouldn’t happen. But if your readers love you and your advertisers simply can’t afford to buy ads during this deep recession, can you survive by asking for a hand?  After all, isn’t this how NPR and PBS have done it for years?

What we are really talking about here is going back to old idea of patrons who support something they love whether it is an orchestra, a radio station, an artist or a business publication. Maybe in his desperation, this noble publisher is opening the door to the future of the business press.

The next couple of years should be interesting. Keep your checkbook nearby. You could become a patron.

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