MagHound is like “EBSCO” for consumers

I sense that last week’s story on FolioMag.com about Time Inc.’s planned MagHound magazine aggregation subscription service (not to be confused with the new print-on-demand-magazine service from HP called MagCloud) had to be one of Folio:’s most linked-to articles in recent memory. (I did my part when the article appeared.)

I think it’s the “Netflix for magazines” analogy that makes the MagHound concept fascinaitng to bloggers and reporters. While at first I didn’t understand the “Netflix” comparison — Would I need to send magazine copies back to MagHound after reading them? — I now get that the reference is to the monthly fee (think, “membership dues”) one pays to receive a given number of magazines. Like Netflix, the higher fee-per-month you pay, the more magazines you receive. And you can constantly change what titles you want to receive so if you’d rather change from Time to Newsweek mid-year, it’s just a click of the button. (That’s assuming Newsweek participates.)

However, rather than “Netflix,” the service sounds to me like “EBSCO” — a service you likely have never heard of (unless you work in magazine circulation or a library, listen to NPR or live in Birmingham, Ala.). I’ll explain below.

Today, Steven Dubner, writes about MagHound (using once more, the Netflix analogy) on the New York Time’s Freakonomics blog.

Quote:

“To me, one of the biggest advantages of something like Maghound is far more prosaic: having one channel through which to handle all your magazine subscriptions, rather than having to hassle with that constant flood of mail from every magazine, reminding you 4 or 6 times that your subscription will be expiring in a mere 12 months.”

I agree with Dubner. That’s the most appealing aspect of the service to me. And it’s a service that has long existed — if you’re a large library or institution. Libraries don’t purchase one-off magazine subscriptions — they use services like the very large Birmingham-based company EBSCO Subscription Service. (A Nashville note: When it comes to books and other media, Ingram Library Services competes also in this market.)

I’ve long wondered why there isn’t a consumer version of EBSCO’s library services. However, without the Internet, the marketing and servicing of consumers maintaining a subscription to just a few titles is likely not a sustainable business model. (But then, again, magazine publishers — without the efficiency of the Internet — market to and service consumers who maintain just one subscription now — an even less-likely to sustain model.) I couldn’t agree with Dubner more — managing all your magazine subscriptions in one account would be great for consumers — and businesses. I hope MagHound works. (I also wonder if EBSCO is: 1. involved in this some way; 2. viewing it as potential competition for carving off some of its smaller customers. — This is very outside my little corner of the magazine world, so I’ll let others figure those out.)

Sidenote: Bonus quote by Steven Dubner on why magazines are holding up in circulation and revenue what newspapers are collapsing:

“This disparity probably makes sense when you consider that a lot of magazine content is more appealing on glossy paper than newspaper content is on newsprint, which means that a computer screen is a worse substitute for magazines than for newspapers. Also, newspapers are far more dependent than magazines on classified ad money, and that’s one form of revenue that’s been making a fast and furious migration to the internet.

  • I know it’s a little self-serving to say this (OK, a lot self-serving), but in reference to Dubner’s quote, Magazines.com has had a subscription management tool for more than a year that provides insight into estimated subscription start and end dates; we’ve had a 100% guarantee on all subscriptions sold for as long as the company’s been around; and our authorizations with publishers stipulate that they not attempt to renew our customers (though some do anyway, and I imagine the same will be true for Maghound customers of some publications). We’re working on new features for the site and for the subscription management tools all the time. I think Maghound sounds like a really intriguing idea and I salute the spirit of experimentation, but I submit that the process of managing subscriptions in one place may exist already.