A Fresh Look at the Old Paid Vs. Free Magazine Debate

Is giving away your magazine really the end of the world?

The mysterious D. Eadward Tree claims to have the most ridiculously low-priced subscription offer out there today. He ran across an ad for a yearly subscription to Entrepreneur magazine for a buck. One dollar.

“The unwritten rules of Media Punditry say I’m now supposed to launch into a rant about how such bargain-basement offers undercut newsstand sales and reflect overinflated ratebases,” Tree writes in Publishing Executive.  Instead, he tacks against the wind.

“Why not just give the copies away? It wouldn’t require an expensive advertising campaign,” he explains. And it’s not as if that $1 price will come close to the cost of printing and mailing the magazines.”

Clearly, he’s expecting gasps. Free? But it’s worth so much! Yes, it is, and still, he gives several salient reasons why this can be a completely workable strategy for a magazine brand. Not the least of the reasons is the fact that advertisers – those folks we used to think would be horrified by appearing in free media – now appear in free digital media all. day. long.

If Tree is expecting gasps, he’s probably going to be disappointed, Joe Berger chimes in on his blog.

“Frankly, free is a great circulation model for many consumer titles. Free city, state and regional publications are a staple in many coffee shops, dry cleaners, hotels and even in supermarkets,” Berger explains. “I’d point you in the direction of the Where Traveler Magazines published by the Morris Media Network as an example of a very successful line of free consumer publications.”

At the end of the day, it’s a strategic call. Free works from some brands, while high cover prices work great for others, especially niche titles. And then there are the brands in the middle, probably like Entrepreneur, that have their own strategic reasons for testing out a ridiculously low subscription price.

As long as they have valid reasons for what they do, and don’t blindly follow the pundits’ advice, who are we to second guess. Although I will tell you this; I’m going to get a hold of that $1 subscription…I think I just finished my Christmas shopping.