Sporting News Magazine's Fuzzy Math

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Oct. 24

Sign of the Times, or Just a Last Gasp

By Samir Husni

Long time ago, in not a far away place, magazines used to consider their subscription cards as a legally binding contractual agreement with their subscribers. If you subscribe for a magazine for a year or a specific number of issues, the magazine used to honor your subscription to that entire period of time. You subscribe for six issues, you get six issues regardless of the frequency of publishing. You subscribe to one year, you receive a one year of magazines unless there was a specific number of issues mentioned in that one year subscription. Frequency was and should never be the basis for magazine subscriptions.

Well, yesterday I received a post card from Sporting News Magazine. It read, "We have decided to merge the bi-weekly (28 issues a year, including four double issues) print edition of Sporting News Magazine with our affiliated Sporting News Yearbooks. The resulting publication will continue to be called Sporting News Magazine, will be published monthly, and will generally focus on one seasonal sport preview." So far, so good. You will say it is a sign of the hard economic times.

My subscription to Sporting News Magazine runs until May 21, 2012. So, I figured they will take the number of issues remaining in my subscription and extend my subscription to the new monthly until all my issues have been sent. Well, I figured wrong. Instead of receiving at least another 14 issues of the magazine, I was told that "after serving your October 10, 2011 issue, you currently have $4.60 remaining on your paid subscription to the bi-weekly Sporting News Magazine. To fulfill that, we will send you 1 issues (sic) of the monthly Sporting News Magazine." Yes, you have read that right, 1 ONE issue left. The card went on to read, "If for any reason you choose not to continue receiving Sporting News Magazine, please contact us at 1-800-777-6785 (U.S. only) for a full refund on the remaining dollar value of your paid subscription."

I called the number and was put on hold for ten minutes because they are "experiencing heavy calling volume and if I want to cancel I can go to" I tried the number again today and received the same recorded message. I opted to wait and when the subscription agent took my call, she explained to me the change in frequency and the way they calculated my remaining "dollar value" from the magazine. She also told me that the new cover price of the magazine will be $8 and the Nov. issue will be a double issue with a $16 cover price, so the magazine is doing me a favor by rounding up by remaining $4.60 and sending me one issue with the $16 cover price."

I am sure that the folks at Sporting News Magazine have cleared this deal with their lawyers and accountants, but even if it legally a way-out of fulfilling their subscription obligations, I do not believe it is the right way or the moral way to deal with the folks who believed in their magazine and subscribed to it for a lengthy period of time. Even if it the legal thing to do (and I am not a lawyer) I do NOT think it is the right thing to do.

Sporting News Magazine should respect the contractual agreement it had with its subscribers and should honor that either for the number of issues remaining or the time frame remaining. Asking folks to cancel their subscription if they do not like the alternative is indeed a sign of the these tough economic times. I said it once and I will say it again, magazines and newspapers are not dying, but too many are committing suicide. I wish Sporting News Magazine with its 125-year history will not join those who "are committing suicide" by the actions and marketing philosophy they are taking.

In my many years of observing and following the magazine industry, I never recall a time where a magazine encouraged its readers to cancel their subscriptions. This must be a first. Yet, I do believe that there is still time to change, survive and thrive.

Here is the statement that the publisher issued on October 19th.  You figure out the math...

Samir Husni, aka "Mr. Magazine", is the director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi, School of Journalism. He is also Professor and Hederman Lecturer at the School of Journalism. For more information, please see his website or read his blog.

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