Here are a couple of more signs, as if we needed them, about the plight of magazines these days:
* It's getting more and more difficult to subscribe to a magazine for just six months or a year. These days, your first move is practically a lifetime subscription.
Many publishers are sending out notices asking readers to send in their credit cards to pay for the product. (This is more common, and easier, in renewals, but you get the idea.) The fine print says that the subscription will automatically be renewed when expiration time arrives, unless the company hears from you. They obviously are counting on the reader to do nothing. This way, not only does the company get your money, but it's probably more money than you'd pay if you searched the Internet for bargains.
Recently my subscription to ESPN the magazine was getting ready to expire. I noticed that my credit card that was on their file had expired a few months before, and I was interested in renewing and getting the package of goodies they send to new subscribers (long-sleeve t-shirt, cooler bag, mug). So I went by the expiration date and renewed by check.
The goodies indeed came, but here's the catch: they still figured out a way to automatically renew my subscription through the expired credit card. For three years. I noticed the charge on a bill. I called up the company and got it straightened out (after getting passed along to another number). Still, it's a lot of work to avoid paying the full rate.
* I've been a reader of Newsweek forever. My parents started getting it when I was a small boy, and I've been reading it ever since. However, the magazine changed formats some months ago, and I can't say I read too much of it any more. Therefore, I decided to let it expire.
The expiration date was sometime in July. It is now October. I am still getting my weekly copy of the magazine. I even received a letter from Newsweek's circulation department this week, boldly announcing "Your subscription expired seven weeks ago!" Well, I'd never know it based on what's been coming into my mailbox.
We all have problems in publishing these days, but it seems like either making it more difficult to subscribe or sending free issues out won't solve any of them for magazines.