Just renewed my subscription to The Economist. Academic pricing is $77 a year - and you can sign-up for 2 years at a time. A $154 hit on the credit credit card. Who says that print is dead? Who says that nobody will pay for quality journalism? Who says that social media is replacing professional journalism? Who says that we need to be able to tweet or comment on or share everything that we read?
A subscription to The Economist comes with all sorts of bundled digital options. These digital options include unrestricted access to The Economist Online, free access to audio versions of articles (which can be downloaded as podcasts or listened to via mobile apps), and the full content via native iPhone and iPad apps. I seldom bother with the digital versions of The Economist. And while I appreciate having The Economist in all formats (and think that publishers should go this way with books), it is the print version that drives my purchase.
Is it odd that I'll pay so much for a print magazine subscription, while at the same time almost all the books that I purchase are digital? In many ways a physical book should be more valuable than a physical magazine. A physical book can be kept and cherished, placed on bookshelves for easy referencing and future re-reading. A physical book can be easily lent. And a physical book retains value, as it can be re-sold.
A paper magazine enjoys none of these qualities. Nobody I know saves magazines for years and years. We don't really lend our paper magazines to friends, and they do not have any value on the used magazine market.
So how to explain the appeal of the print Economist?
1. Medium Content Longevity: An issue of The Economist has a shelf life of about 2 months. This means that I can stack up to 8 Economists by my bedside, and the articles from 8 weeks back will still be fresh and relevant. Unlike a newspaper or a weekly magazine, there is no need to keep up with the publication pace of The Economist. I read the magazine for analysis, perspective and depth. The Economist is not designed to keep us current with news as it occurs.
2. The Tactile Pleasure of Magazines: Reading The Economist is a break from my techno immersive life. All day, every day, I'm interacting with some electronic device. It is a relief to curl up with a magazine. To not be tempted to check e-mail or to follow links to other news sources.
3. Reliably Smart Content: I might not always agree with the editorial slant of The Economist, but I can always rely on the writing be sharp, sometimes funny, and always smart. The journalists who write for The Economist (and who do not get a byline) are among the best in the business.
4. Specialized Content: I do not know of another publication that combines an international perspective with the consistent editorial voice found in The Economist.
5. Article Length: One of the strengths of The Economist's model is the diversity in the length of its articles. I love the longer surveys and special reports. The Technology Quarterly is always a must read. These longer articles and special reports are complemented by short articles and book reviews, making it possible to dip into an issue if you only have a few minutes to spare. And each issue contains so many articles that it is possible to skip around without guilt.
The downside of an Economist subscription is that the magazine is so information rich that it crowds out other print publications. For instance, I have let my subscriptions to The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper's lapse ... as long form magazine articles and books compete for the same reading minutes.
What print magazines would you be unable to live without?
How has your magazine subscribing behavior changed?