Renewing 'The Economist'

When Kindle books crowd out magazine subscriptions.

March 4, 2014

Last week I renewed my print subscription for The Economist. I renewed through Amazon, paying $223.38 sense for a two year (102 issue) subscription. This works out to $2.19 an issue.

The Economist is one of the 4 publications that I read only in print, and pay to have delivered to my home. The others include our daily local paper, Popular Science, and Wired magazine.

I debated long and hard if I was going to renew my Economist subscription.   

I love The Economist, but the magazine takes a long time to read, and copies tend to pile up on my nightstand.   

The hour or so that it takes to read through an entire issue of The Economist is an hour that I do not spend reading something else.  

Time with The Economist is mostly pleasure reading, time focused on consuming rather than producing. This pleasure reading therefore mostly comes out of pleasure reading on my Kindle Paperwhite.   

Over the past couple years I’ve worked hard to slim down my media diet to carve out more time to read books.   

Before the rise of e-books I subscribed to many magazines. I miss the New Yorker. I miss the Atlantic. I miss Harpers.  I miss Business Week. I miss Time. I miss the New Republic. I miss The Utne Reader. 

I no longer subscribe to any of these magazines not because of their subscription costs, but because of their opportunity costs.

I really miss The Industry Standard - but that publication is sadly no more.

The Kindle ecosystem means new books at the cost of softcover books. Amazon has brought down the direct costs (purchase price) and indirect costs (purchasing is friction free and instant) of book reading.   

It remains to be seen if we are making a good tradeoff by ceding our book purchases to Amazon. Cheaper books and a high quality reading experience for lock-in and the dangers of one company controlling the e-book and audiobook market.   

Single company dominance in any market does not usually end well for the consumer.

Whatever our worries about Amazon’s digital book dominance, the fact is that because of Amazon we are reading more than ever.

Time that I used to spend reading magazines is now time I spend reading books.  

The reason for this change is that the costs of books have come down, and the quality of my selection choices has increased. Any book that I hear about I can instantly download for a reasonable cost. For most of my life access to new books was scarce, as hardcover books are expensive.  

What about library books? Books from my academic or town library are free, but the demand for popular new books almost always exceeds the supply. And library digital books are even scarcer than physical books. Amazon has trained me to expect instant gratification in book availability.

When I read a book or a magazine I want to do so on a device that limits interactivity. I don’t want to be able to highlight, share, or search. I don’t want to be able to check e-mail, Twitter, or any other social media platform. I don’t want to communicate.

Reading The Economist or a book on my Kindle Paperwhite is a tactile, focused, and solitary experience. It is a break from life of constant interruption, connectivity, and productivity.

Books will continue to get better. Assuming that Amazon keeps book prices down, I expect that the pull to my Kindle will only grow.

The bar for renewal of The Economist in 2016 will be very high indeed.

How have your magazine subscribing habits changed?


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