Does price matter? According to a story by MediaPost’s Michael Shields, Conde Nast and Time have jointly commissioned research that shows, “what consumers pay for magazines and how they come to subscribe to such magazines have no correlation to their level of involvement with such titles.”
(Disclosure: This weblog thinks all research like this is suspect and believes all coverage of such research is written by journalists who did everything possible to avoid statistics courses in college. However, whenever it agrees with the outcome, this weblog is happy to discard such bias.)
As Time and Conde Nast are presenting the research to “prominent print buyers,” I assume they are trying to overcome any objections to the notion that their magazine titles have large circulations because most subscriptions are purchased at discount rates via High School Band fund raising projects or because someone thinks they can win the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes if they pay $10 for a year’s subscription.
However, I am sure that Time and Conde Nast did not consider the unintended consequence that certain custom publishing companies would use this research to underscore the fact that magazines are valued by readers for reasons having nothing to do with the publication’s source or price, but rather have to do with the magazine’s quality, reader experience and fulfillment of need.
“The perception has been that if you pay more, therefore you want the magazine more,” said another prominent planner who spoke off the record. “It’s almost like saying if you pay a higher price for a book that it will be read more closely.”
It stands to reason that publishers that employ such tactics might have incentive to downplay the average price and subscription source measurements. “Publishers want to get rid of it,” said one planner of average price paid.
Another unintended consequence of this research will be what folks like Rafat Ali of PaidContent.org (who is, in my humble opinion, the go-to guru on the value of online content) might have say about it. Specifically, if print publishers like Time and Conde Nast are promoting research showing the value of “content” is not related to the price one pays to subscribe to it, then what does that say about Time & Conde Nast’s argument for why they put online content behind a cost-wall? These publishers appear to be laying the philosophical foundation for an argument that a print business model should be based primarily on advertising revenue generated by the quantity and quality of eyeballs while their online business models appear headed in an opposite direction.