The Price is Right
Nothing says scientific research like polling a group of magazine insiders during happy hour. This past week, at the Ryerson Review of Journalism’s Friends of the Review fundraising gala, Morgan Passi asked, “What magazine would you pay for online?”
Paul McLaughlin, freelance journalist
Vanity Fair and Maclean’s
I’m a huge Vanity Fair fan. Maclean’s, despite its political leanings, has improved incredibly since [editor] Ken Whyte took over. So I like it very much. I think it used to be a pretty boring magazine. Even though I don’t have the same political leanings as Whyte, I think it’s a much more interesting magazine and a great Canadian magazine. And I’m hoping that, under [editor] John Macfarlane, The Walrus will become a better read than it used to be. It all depends on the cost, doesn’t it? But I can’t live without Vanity Fair. That’s my favourite.
Stacey May Fowles, publisher, Shameless and circulation manager, The Walrus
I don’t think I’d pay for anything online. I want to pay for something I can hold in my hands. I think digital editions are a terrible, terrible idea. I want to say that I would pay for it because I want people to do it. But I wouldn’t and I love magazines like nobody. It’s very sad and very honest. That’s like three martinis honest. Maybe if you gave me a membership to something exclusive, and as part of that I got a digital edition of the magazine-maybe. But to pay for a digital edition of a magazine? No, I wouldn’t do that.
David Hayes, freelance writer
The New Yorker, Toronto Life, New York Times Magazine and Mojo.
If the print version wasn’t available or if they started charging for the online version, I would likely pay for those. I’m accustomed to everything being free online. Most magazines are free-not all, but enough that you don’t have to pay for them.
D.B. Scott, consultant and blogger, Canadian Magazines
Among others … Toronto Life, Harper’s, The Atlantic and Geist (maybe)
I wouldn’t pay for most magazines online unless they give me sufficient value. I’m not going to be an early adopter. I’m not going to be the first one to pay for a magazine everybody else is getting for free, and I think that’s a big problem for magazines.
I would be more likely to pay for a magazine if I believed that the magazine was getting the majority of its revenue from its readers. And I think that the business model based on advertisers driving magazines is probably broken-and more or less broken for good. We’re in the transition period. My hope is that 10 years from now there will be a lot of magazines that are carried 60 to 70 percent by their readers. If I felt that about any of these magazines, I would be more inclined to pay a reasonable fee to be a subscriber.
We’ve spent four generations convincing people that a magazine is worth no more than a high-end greeting card. That’s got to stop.
Graham F. Scott, editor, This Magazine
Toronto Life, Spacing, Maisonneuve, This Magazine, Good magazine, The Walrus and The Guardian Weekly
It depends what the model is. I would not want to pay by the year. If I could pay $15 a month to get all of these magazines, I might do it.
I think the physical is important. I think ink on paper is worth it. I like carrying it around with me. I like being able to flip through it. I don’t think the quality of the story online from print has to change. But I think the [online] price should go down because everyone knows that online costs less to deliver and consumers aren’t stupid. They know that you can’t charge the same price for something that costs 95 percent less to produce.
Ian Pearson, freelance editor
The Believer,Fly Fisherman and The New York Review of Books
It’s hard to say because I used to read Salon a lot, and then when it added the pay element and became very commercial, I stopped reading it. I did pay for The New York Times Plus but then it stopped charging. It wasn’t working because people didn’t want to pay. It would definitely be something specialized. I like the fact that Maclean’s online is free. I don’t read Maclean’s in print but sometimes I’ll go to its website and look up an article. If it charged for that, I would never do that.
I like The New York Review of Books, but I don’t subscribe to it because I hate having too much paper coming into the house. So if I could pay $20 a year to subscribe online, I would. Even though they’re long reviews, it’s something that’s quickly readable online. And if you want to, you can look up something from three months ago, or if you’ve just read a book or want to know about a book.
I read Andrew Sullivan’s political blog for The Atlantic a lot and he’s constantly pointing to Atlantic articles. But there’s something about those lengths of article that you really want to read to in print. Again, I don’t subscribe to it. I’ll pick up an occasional issue.
Conan Tobias, managing editor, Canadian Business
The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Wired (maybe) and Entertainment Weekly
Any magazine that I read on a regular basis now, I would probably read online if it wasn’t available in print. But I don’t want to read it online-I want to read it in print.
I work in magazines. I like print-for longer stuff especially. I just prefer reading it at my leisure, where I want, in print.
I could see Entertainment Weekly going online. I don’t think The New Yorker or Vanity Fair could go online entirely just yet. But I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next 10 years.
Marco Ursi, editor, MastheadOnline
If I have to pay for something, I’m going to buy it in print. If The New Yorker folded and I could only get it online, then I would think about paying for that. I’m not a print romantic but with The New Yorker, the experience is about reading the magazine. Flipping to the back and the front, and the layout and the organization of the print magazine are very important to my relationship to it. I read a lot of magazines, but I don’t have a really committed relationship with any other magazine.
I’m kind of saying things that the editor of Masthead shouldn’t say, but as a consumer, my perspective is different. I’m 26. I’m Gen-Y, apparently. So I’m used to getting things for free. I used to buy three CDs a week. I buy zero now and I download all my music illegally-I pay nothing for it. I go see a few concerts and I justify my contribution that way. If there was no way to download music, I would start buying things again. Magazines, that depends. If there are free things online versus paid things, I’m still going to choose the free things until they become so shit that I can’t take it. I know everyone wants to start charging for content, but Masthead tried it and it failed. I think it’s a stupid idea. You charge for print, you don’t charge for the web.