I recently picked up the New York Review of Books again on a half-price subscription offer ($30) after letting it go a few years ago when the rates got too high. It contains some of the best writing I see today. I used to consider Fortune and Esquire in the top ranks, but I gave up on them a long time ago. I pick up and drop Harper’s and the Atlantic Monthly and haven’t been a consistent enough subscriber in recent years to comment on them. I used to get the Wall St. Journal online edition, but that also got to be too expensive.
I used to cherry pick the cheap subscription rates through Publishers Clearinghouse (admittedly in hopes of winning something), but that got too complicated and often ended up with duplicate subscriptions. I dropped Time after many years but picked it up again after they offered a half-price subscription. Unfortunately, they also cut the number of pages in half.
So why pay for print subscriptions for magazines when so many are available for free online? Well, convenience for one thing. I try to read the current issue when it comes it because if I put it aside I may never get back to it again. I haven’t personally tried the Kindle or the Nook, which at present don’t include magazines anyway, but my experience with online only magazines such as Slate and Salon has been haphazard.
If I read an article that I want to keep, I go online and save the file of the online version to my computer so that I don’t clip paper articles anymore. I spend too much time on the computer anyway so having the option to read offline for leisure is a pleasure that I still enjoy.
But the pricing game for magazine subscriptions gets more annoying all the time —almost like trying to book a flight online where the prices change hourly. If I have subscribed to a magazine for several years, I think I automatically ought to receive their best rates rather than having to scramble to find better promotional rates.
Of course, in addition to satisfying my intellectual interests I subscribe to magazines to learn about them so as to be able to make a reasonably knowledgeable query when I make a pitch. I do it backwards of most writers. Rather than picking a magazine and finding a topic that I think would interest them, I usually follow my instinct, pick a topic and then try to find a magazine where I could place it. That system doesn’t seem to work very well. Most writers I know say that you get assignments only after you get to know an editor well and you do that through persistence. It may start with a personal contact at a conference, a brief phone or in-office visit, or simply consistent queries that become more refined.
I think it’s too early to predict the demise of printed magazines or books. As each new technology has evolved, it usually has produced a cumulate effect of more media rather than totally eliminating an older version. The Apple iPad may change that, but it isn’t even on the market yet.