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Media Business In Trouble

by David Brock on May 5th, 2012

The media business is changing.  Traditional media–newspapers, journals, and magazines are struggling to refine their business models.  Figuring out how to make money and continue to grow is a challenge for all in the media business.  As a consumer of both traditional and new media, I want to see them survive, grow, and thrive.  I subscribe to a lot of “traditional” media as well as new media.

One of the great trends I see is publishers adopting “any time, any place, any device.”  For example I can read some of my favorite newspapers in hard copy, or, when I’m not home, I can look at that content on my laptop, Ipad, or phone.  For one simple subscription, I can get to the content in a manner that’s most convenient for the moment.

Companies are experimenting, some charge a premium for digital access, many provide it free with the hardcopy subscription. I’m not sure where I stand on that, but I know they need to make money, so I’m probably OK with a small premium for the combined digital and hardcopy access.

 The problem I have is when the company thinks its subscribers are stupid.  When they go beyond making money, to treating their customers with total disrespect.

I’m a long time subscriber and avid reader of the Harvard Business Review.  For years, I have anxiously waited each copy to be delivered to my office.  I devour it in the first evenning.  For years, with my subscription, in the past roughly $79/year, I have had free access to HBR online–along with archived articles (I no longer have to save all my old copies–it’s opened up three book shelves for me.)

This year, I get my subscription renewal and am a little shocked.  I can renew my hardcopy subscription for $79, I can get an online subscription only for $99 (wow, that used to be part of my hardcopy subscription–guess times are rough in Cambridge).  Or I can get a combined subscription for about $149–about double last year’s subscription.

Furthermore, to get content on my Ipad, I have to pay an additional $79.99!

This certainly isn’t content on any device, any time, any where!!

Well, the Ipad application is out!  There are so many equally good, even better,  subscriptions I have there-Business Week, Forbes, McKinsey Quarterly, Fortune, Wired, Fast Company, journals from INSEAD,  and more.  I can live without the Ipad version.

I swallow hard and look at the combined price of the online and hardcopy version—I really like the convenience of both, but the renewal rate—after I don’t know how many years of subscribing— is $149.

I research further, I discover, if I just let my subscription lapse, and start a new subscription, I can get the same deal for $129–$20 dollars less!  It’ snot a lot, but I’m glad to take it.

But I reconsider.  This is really shameless manipulation.  The publishers must really think the readers are stupid.  First, doubling the price on me.  Maybe I could swallow that.  But now I’m offended.  For weeks, my mailbox has been filled with “such a deal” renewal notices from them–all at $149.  Didn’t they think I’d check the price on line? 

Maybe there’s something I don’t understand about the value proposition.  Let me see,  a loyal subscriber for many years, OK, times are tough for publishers, so I’ll pay a super high premium for the convenience of hard copy and online, though doubling the prices seems a bit much.

BUT WAIT!!

I could get the very same thing for $20 less, just by being a new subscriber—yes their costs increase marginally, but why should I care?  They have to process me as a new subscriber.  And I’m sure, I’ll get another dozen, “last chance,” “sure hate to lose you,” offers at $149.  Then they probably have to purge my old subscription from their data bases, which has some cost.  Perhaps they make it up by selling that data—I’m not sure, guess I have to go back and review their privacy policy.

I’m confused, which deal should I take?  What’s the difference in value propositions?

As I look at the pricing policies, I can only come to the conclusion they must think I’m stupid, a sucker, or both.

Now I’m reconsidering everything.  I think, I’m in Manhattan quite frequently–maybe I can go downtown, stand on a street corner with a cardboard sign, “Hey buddy, spare a copy of HBR?”  Or I know the neighbor a few doors down, also subscribes, maybe I can borrow his copies after he’s finished.  Or maybe I can rely on other sources of really great content.  After all, many of their featured authors have their own blogs.

The Harvard Business Review isn’t alone in it’s practice, though it does stand out as the worst, at least of all the journals, papers, and magazines I subscribe to.

With policies like this, it’s no wonder media is in trouble!

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