Magazines Giving Readers A Real Reason To Buy

from the very-cool dept

While most of the coverage of the old school paper media industry struggling to update their business models has focused on newspapers, there are lots of questions around the magazine industry as well. Magazines are losing ad revenue and trying to reinvent themselves to retain readers. Some are giving up and shutting down completely. However, I’ve seen a few stories lately pointing to smaller, less well known magazines that are really doing some unique things to give readers a real reason to buy, rather than trying to force them to buy. The first comes courtesy of Surinder, who points us to a story about Monocle magazine, who has focused on a strategy of giving readers a real reason to buy:

There are, on this type of thinking, two kinds of reader: fans and the indifferent. Monocle’s strategy is to find fans and then, boy, make money out of them. So, if you missed an issue, back issues cost double – because in the end it is only completists, eyeing an irritating lacuna on the bathroom shelf, who will want to buy. And they might as well pay up.

There are Monocle accessories – bags, pens and Lord knows what else – to buy and of course it is the fans that do, as they rather like being some sort of trans-national club, who fancy flying for a holiday in Costa Rica/Brunei/South Africa. And if you missed them in the magazine, you can head down to a Monocle shop. There is one off Marylebone High Street in London, with others in Los Angeles, or in Mallorca this summer, on the off chance that you happen to be in those locations at the crucial time.

Now, some readers may snort with derision at this point. After all, it would not be hard for more demotic types to describe Monocle as pretentious, although this is in fact unfair. But it does not matter; if there are enough fans you can make good money from them, a strategy that never did Madonna much harm. The snorters – a majority for any publication if you think about it – are irrelevant.

Then, the Wall Street Journal covered five different magazines that are all coming up with creative ways to add value and give fans a reason to buy. Some of them are incredibly creative, often turning the “magazine” into a piece of artwork itself (i.e., something you want to posses and own, not something you read and toss out). For example, there’s T-Post — a magazine built into a t-shirt:

It’s the magazine you can wear.

Every six weeks, T-Post sends its 2,500 subscribers a new T-shirt: It has a true story printed on the inside, chosen to make readers think, while on the outside an artist interprets the story to create a stylishly unique piece of graphic clothing. The idea behind the magazine is that each design will provoke onlookers to comment — and give the owner of the T-shirt the opportunity to spread the story printed on the inside.

Other magazines include one where every issue is round and comes inside a designer frisbee, another where the magazine is made of unique and unusual materials (the latest one is “a book of black-and-white photographs that turn to color when exposed to the sun.” Then there are magazines that blur the lines between magazines and objects, such as La Mas Bella and La Lata, which comes in a can you have to pry open.

While a lot of these are (not surprisingly) art magazines, that doesn’t mean non-art magazines can’t take a lesson from this: provide something worth keeping that creates a real reason to buy.

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Comments on “Magazines Giving Readers A Real Reason To Buy”

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Mike (profile) says:

Re: hardly

none of the magazines mentioned in wsj can replace regular magazines like newsweek or nyorker. niche products.

True, but they’re not designed to, and no one suggested that was the purpose of these magazines. The point is that there are interesting other ways to make a product worth buying. From that, magazines like Newsweek or the New Yorker might be able to learn some new ideas. I’m certainly not suggesting any of them start shipping themselves in a can — but that doesn’t mean they can’t learn from these examples and come up with their own reasons to buy.

Anonymous Coward says:

none of the magazines mentioned in wsj can replace regular magazines like newsweek or nyorker. niche products.

I agree also, I work for a magazine company and we have 5x higher circulation then the the next competing magazine and we are dying for money.

Sadly our president is too late on this whole interweb thing. Our company is doomed.

Agreeable Coward says:

Re: Re:

I too work for a magazine that has more to offer than any competitor in our field. Our President, too, is way behind the internet curve. I’m trying hard to push him into the 90’s, but it’s been a struggle. Unfortunately, he’s positive that he’s your average Joe – who would rather get their news from a monthly publication rather than an online source.

Anonymous Coward says:

none of the magazines mentioned in wsj can replace regular magazines like newsweek or nyorker. niche products.

I agree also, I work for a magazine company and we have 5x higher circulation then the the next competing magazine and we are dying for money.

Sadly our president is too late on this whole interweb thing. Our company is doomed.

Mike FM (user link) says:

One thing you can't get online.

There is one thing you can’t get online / on mobile phones / from PodCasts and that is material items. To include these has always been a part of magazines from sweets with the Beano to Collector’s items with an antiques magazine. Magazines are still using this as a way to attract customers, sounds like these are taking it a step further by turning the magazines in some cases) into the material things themselves.

Brilliant ideas!

I especially like an article in a T-Shirt. If ever you needed a conversation starter…..

Anonymous Coward says:

Actually, this whole process makes it sound like a good way to turn off readers. If you miss an issue or two, perhaps you just drop it rather than paying to get “back in the game”. It creates a decision point, an important moment in sales when a customer can say “no” or “no more”.

The ideas are decent, but it really doesn’t apply to normal magazines. I am not sure, example, how a magazine like Wired, Car and Driver, or any others would use these things to make their businesses grow.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re:

– drop in a CD with some cool utility software on it. Guaranteed no spyware, no rootkits, and useful.
– drop in some poster-sized tech maps. Like the rainfall color-coded maps from geography class, but with things like VC investment one month, tech jobs the next.

Car and Driver:
– may be lame, but an air frenshener insert for your car?
– a “drivin” CD with a collection of “road trip” songs (- Born to be Wild).

My ideas may be lame, but it took me all of 1 minute to create AND write them. Ideas are easy.

Aaron Martin-Colby (profile) says:


Gee! Ways to add value!

I wonder if Playboy will get around to doing this instead of desperately putting itself on the block for too much.

My friend and I spent ten minutes, TEN, brainstorming about ways to generate money out of the Playboy brand, because, man, is it a strong brand. We came up with a baker’s dozen of ideas, easy.

More clothing, accessories, computer services for the upwardly mobile male, clubs (like a meet for people who own BMW’s), nightclubs (of which they had many once), or start a custom Amazon store that caters to the Playboy image. You want to sell magazines, include something valuable with each issue. Pins, CD’s, black books, an iPhone skin, I dunno’, a freakin’ condom, try SOMETHING!

Playboy just continues to lurch along with the same business model, magazines and porn, which are both deader than dead.

I like Playboy. It’s a pivotal moment in American history. I don’t want it to die. I haven’t gotten it in many years, but that’s because I got used to its “voice,” in a similar way I got used to Time or Rolling Stone. If they kept it mixed up to hold my interest, and then gave the double-whammy of added value, I’d subscribe again.

So, @AnonCo: I think “normal magazines” can do a lot to add value. Car & Driver? Magazine sponsored test drives at various points across the country. A subscriber store where branded clothing (Porsche, BMW, etc.) can be purchased at a discount. Special hardcover books available only to subscribers about whatever car about which they’re passionate.

Wired? Special order editions of the magazine that are actually made OUT of electronics, and have a selection of the reader’s favorite articles (e.g. every article that George Lucas has ever appeared in). Wired-made applications for smart phones that aggregate news and provide an advertising venue. Monthly give-away’s like a cell phone dongle that has the Wired logo and the subscriber’s name and address. I think these ideas are easily implemented.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Magazines Are Different Than Newspapers

Magazines are probably much more responsive to the challenges of the Internet age for one simple reason: They have always been a highly competitive industry.

Where newspapers had regional monopolies, or very limited local competition, magazines typically serve a national or global market, rife with alternatives.

No surprise, then, that these publications (which suffer the same threat from the Interwebs as the papers) aren’t the ones moaning and whining to DC to save them. They’re struggling to compete. They’re used to being competitive, they’re used to being at risk of dying, they’re used to having to compete with new entrants.

What a refreshing change from the newspaper stories we hear so much about these days.

Baxter (user link) says:

Grassroots Motorsports

Thanks for mentioning Grassroots Motorsports, Andy. For 25 years now we’ve been doing things a bit differently than most car magazines, whether that’s focusing on cars mere mortals can buy and enjoy, or finding new ways to reach out and build a community. We’re so sure people will like the magazine once they see it, we’ll send anyone who wants one a free issue. Just go to and ask for one.

And because we want you to like us, we won’t sell or trade your email to anyone, either.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Selling Mailing Lists.

You can rent out a magazine’s subscriber list to people who want to mail things which do not necessarily fit in the magazine. Manufactured goods are getting much cheaper, especially compared to services, and it might be time to think about the mechanics of giving away manufactured goods.

There’s a Walgreen’s drugstore around the corner from me, and they carry a reasonable assortment of basic groceries, at grocery store prices, rather than convenience store prices: milk, eggs, bread, orange and apple juice, cheese, etc., and a rather larger assortment of “dime store goods,” again at grocery store prices. I’m a nondriver. I was so excited about mathematics at the age of sixteen that I never found time to learn to drive, and if you try to learn to drive at a later age, it doesn’t take. So I’ve found it convenient to shop at Walgreen’s a lot, since it’s just a question of walking down the street, and carrying things home on my back, rather than getting a taxicab to haul stuff home from a more distant grocery store.

Well, at any rate, I’ve gotten in the habit of browsing the shelves, and one day, I found they were selling Chinese binoculars, manufactured under license from Vivitar, for ten dollars. Well, I thought, at that price, one could hardly go very far wrong. So I bought them. I found on examination that the optics were of reasonably good quality, and the workmanship fair to middling. If my vision had been normal, I’d have been home-free. However, I am very near-sighted, about eight or nine diopters. If I removed my eyeglasses, and put the binocular eyepieces against my eyes, I found I could not focus out to infinity. I eventually used an x-acto knife to cut down the binoculars’ rubber eyepieces so that I could use them with my eyeglasses on. This works after a fashion, but it is imperfect. It is difficult to keep the axes of both sides aligned with my eyeballs.

I think you could probably design a pair of binoculars for people with thick eyeglasses. Increase the diameter of the ocular lenses, I expect. If you have them made in China, to about the same standard as the pseudo-Vivitars, they should cost somewhere in the ballpark of ten dollars. The question is how to sell them to a dispersed market, without going through high-overhead specialty stores.

Here’s where we pull the second trick. Eyeglasses are much more expensive than binoculars, even good binoculars, partly because of the customization, and partly because the price includes an examination by a qualified optometrist or ophthalmologist. So here’s the basic business model: you want to get the doctors to pay you to distribute pairs of binoculars, unobtrusively engraved with the legend: “compliments of Dr. So-and-so, such and such address, telephone number, website.” Alternatively, and better still, you could create an intermediate entity, an “eye doctor recommendation network,” and you would only have to find room for a common URL, and you could cover the possibility of someone not being in the same city as he was when he received the gift. You sell listings on the website, of course. You can improve your targeting by purchasing subscriber lists from outdoors magazines such as Field and Stream, and maybe merging in the lists for the Audubon Society’s magazine to get the birdwatchers.

I make a present of this model to anyone who wants to run with it. There are of course details to be worked out.

Matt (profile) says:

Kinda missing the point on Monocle

Yes – their strategy is to build fans and euphemistically “cater to those fans” – but this misses the reasons people become fans in the first place. (And count me as a fan, I’ve just renewed my subscription.)

This reason can be summarised down to – the quality of the magazine makes me want to buy it. What do I mean by this?

– They invest in their reporting – the reporting is unique, thorough and well-researched. They have extensive overseas bureaux. It’s informative, interesting, and very often unique.

– A philosophy. This is one of those either you buy into to it or you don’t things and it permeates every aspect of the publication from design to advertising to editorial. It’s very global, tends towards a positive outlook, and avoids sensation and celebrity.

– They recognise that reading a magazine is not just about words. Yes you can read the articles online, however the printed magazine is great to hold and read. Excellent layout, high quality paper stocks, good advertising.

Other people I know who read this magazine (and there aren’t many of them) all read the magazine because it’s a great magazine, not because of the “extras”.

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