Pay to Play? Transworld Business: Paid Print and Digital Content? Hulk SMASH!

The title of this rant should really be Why paid print and digital distribution is irrelevant for 90% of media properties in 2009 but I didn’t think anyone would bother reading this post. The trigger to this banality was the notification on the latest issue of TransWorld Business (no not the transgender video series) which offered a VIP subscription for $49.95 or a digital subscription for $9.95. Hold the phone! My beloved rag is now charging me to learn why shops are in the toilet, see waif (ahem) models in the latest Volcom biknis, and how to effectively market Reef sandals to frat boys? When I read further, it turns out the VIP subscription is the only subscription, providing the same benefits that I currently receive for free. This smells like the ‘ol “VIP” lapdance scam. The digital subscription is, well, the digital version of the magazine, yawn.

I can envision the conversation at the board room of TransWorld Media. Dudes, we need to make more money as TransWorld Wake isn’t pulling in the big bucks. Brah, let’s do what Rupert Murdoch and John Grisham do! What’s that? Let’s charge people to read our Industry mag! Whoa, that’s brilliant! Pass the bong.

Now I think many of you are saying, it is only fair payment for a service or good. I agree, but one needs to review the purpose and quality of that service first. In this case, TW Biz provides industry-specific information for the Surf, Skate and Snowboard industries. They have not broadened their reach to include other “Action Sports” and traditionally have been pretty generous on their subscriptions (hence why I am on the list). Because of their niche reach, they have a very limited audience and need to boost circulation to warrant prices that they charge for advertising. I’m pretty sure that they did the math to realize what $49.95 x 40,000 or so peeps would provide ($1,998,000), but that’s assuming that you can get all those subs when they’re not free.

Shops and industry peeps aren’t immune from the recession either. Do you think that they’re going to spend $50 on TW Biz when the same content can be found elsewhere for next to nothing or free? For $50, you could subscribe to a series of small business magazines, which would guarantee to have more useful information on inventory and cash flow management, but wouldn’t have the pretty pictures of all the cool parties. Usually there’s a Jake Burton or Yvon Chouinard article in there though. And you’d have some money left over for a case of Bud. But I digress.

It is the year 2009. Only the Wall Street Journal and Hustler charge for their content, and you ain’t Larry Flynt. With the Internets, mediocre to good content can be readily found for free. And often most publishers are posting content quickly after the print publish date anyway. It isn’t only the expectation but the rule that content is a commodity. As a result, you would be better served to truly reach out to your audience with a better business model. Why not reach out to the Industry that depends on these shops for their lifeblood to help sponsor the magazine with exclusive advertorials, straight up advertising or exclusive opportunities? Or may be increase your coverage of key events such as conferences with webinars, valuable statistics, etc. The model should be Forrester Research not the NY Times. In conclusion, because subscriptions are down across your other properties, don’t come knocking on my door. C’mon I need to know if short short boardshorts are in or OUT.

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