I recently read about an interesting experiment: For the next three months the magazine Good is allowing readers to name their own subscription price. Good is not the first to experiment with the idea. For one month in late 2007, Paste allowed readers to name their subscription price, a program that resulted in 28,000 new paid subscribers. For a consumer magazine like Paste that carries advertising, a circulation increase of 28,000 should translate to a nice chunk of new advertising revenue.
Over the last few years as auditing agencies have enforced stricter requirements on publishers regarding circulation, some publishers have been forced to reduce their rate bases to pass their audits. Some magazines then find themselves unable to sell as big of an audience to advertisers, so they must find new ways to boost circulation. This partially explains why an annual subscription to a magazine can sometimes cost less than a single copy of an issue on newsstands. (Mr. Magazine Samir Husni shares his take on single copy vs. subscription sales on his blog.)
Before you consider instituting this kind of program with your magazine, consider: What are the risks of allowing new readers to tell you what your magazine is worth to them? Will these readers be more or less engaged with your magazine? Will readers who pay the average $20 subscription price feel more vested in the magazine than those who pay $1, or will you end up losing money on them? Each publication’s situation, content, readership and financial realities are unique, but for some magazines, letting their readers rate their worth could be an experiment that could help give those publications the circulation bump they sorely need.