Why Magazine Circulations Are Like Credit Ratings

If we’ve learned one thing from the CDO fiasco, it’s that in many cases investment

banks put products together with more of an eye on the credit rating they could

achieve than they had on real financial safety or viability. Impartial auditors

are all well and good, but invariably when one or two auditors become all-powerful,

they distort the market to the point at which their ratings become the end in

themselves, rather than a reflection of underlying reality.

As it is with credit ratings, so is it with magazine circulations. Jeff

Bercovici reports:

For the next two weeks, anyone who buys or renews a subscription to the indie

music magazine through Pastemagazine.com can name his or her own price. Clever,


Unlike Radiohead, which gave fans the option of paying nothing at all for

In Rainbows, Paste has set a minimum of $1.

"We need to count these as paid subscribers," explains publisher

Tim Regan-Porter.

The reason why pastemagazine.com is setting a minimum price is exactly the

same as the reason why the electronic

edition of the New York Times still costs $15 a month, even after TimesSelect

has been abolished. If you give it away, it doesn’t count as paid circulation

for the purposes of the Audit Bureau of Circulation. And ad rates are based

not the ABC’s audited circulation numbers.

As a result, newspapers and magazines will go to extraordinary lengths to get

paid subscribers. It’s not uncommon, for instance, for the "free gift"

you get with a magazine subscription to be worth more than the amount you’re

paying. And at the margin, subscriber-acquisition costs are nearly always substantially

higher than the price of a subscription. It’s all part of a rather silly game

played between the ABC, publishers, and advertisers.

But if the music stops on this game, at least, no one’s going to lose $8 billion.

This entry was posted in Media. Bookmark the permalink.