What Our Readers Want
Two months ago, I devoted a column to the dilemma facing many excellent magazines in this era of free information on the Web: how to sustain a printed product in the face of falling subscription prices and declining advertising pages. I asked our readers several questions, and more than 400 of them have responded so far.
To begin with, I asked about the different ways in which they find and use information they need for managing their money. Then I asked what they like about each reader experience, whether online or in print. I asked about the attention they give to advertising in each format. Finally, I probed whether they would pay a higher subscription price to help keep their favorite magazines alive and well.
Their responses -- almost all of which arrived via e-mail, with a smattering of typed and handwritten letters -- were fascinating to me as a journalist and publisher. Here's a summary.
"I like to kick back." Our readers, whatever their age, are heavy users of electronic media -- delivered on smart phones, laptops, tablets and e-readers -- but they also love print on paper. "I am not a Neanderthal or technophobe," one wrote. "I spend all day online, but in the evening, I like to kick back with a glass of wine and your magazine." Said another reader: "When I read a magazine on an airplane, I don't have to power it down for takeoff and landing."
They say they use the Internet to find particular information they're looking for, but they count on our magazine to "find out what I didn't know that I didn't know" -- but need to be aware of.
They savor our magazine over several sittings, turning down page corners, writing in the margin, and tearing out articles and ads to consult later or send to others.
Some noted that a few of their once-favorite magazines are now available only online -- and they have stopped reading them. But a number of folks said they like the new digital replicas of magazines, especially the more interactive versions. We do, too. Kiplinger's for your tablet reader is available by subscription on Zinio, Apple's Newsstand and several other digital markets.
Ads are popular. A surprising number of respondents said they don't notice online ads ("I quickly close or scroll past them") -- but it turns out they do pay close attention to ads in their favorite magazines. ("I learn about previously unexplored investment ideas by reading the advertisements," said one reader.)
Several people wondered why, given our affluent readership, this magazine doesn't carry more ad pages for nonfinancial products -- cars, travel, consumer goods and such. We wonder too, and it's not for lack of trying. We used to carry a much wider variety of advertising, and we hope to again.
"Great value." Reader comments about magazine subscription prices were intriguing. Several said they would be willing to pay more than they do now -- "It's a great value" -- but publishers haven't made them pay more. They said they've been conditioned by us publishers to expect falling prices. And some said that we shouldn't be surprised that they -- fans of a magazine that shows them how to save money on everything -- are very price-conscious about their reading material, too.
A number of readers, previously unaware of the plight of magazines today, said they want to do their part to support print publishing. A few promised to buy a multiyear subscription to Kiplinger's and give more subscriptions as gifts to family and friends. (Bless their hearts!)
This outpouring of affection for magazines in general, and Kiplinger's in particular, is heartening. We're studying the responses carefully for what we can learn from them. Stay tuned.
Columnist Knight Kiplinger is editor in chief of this magazine and of The Kiplinger Letter and Kiplinger.com.
This article first appeared in Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. For more help with your personal finances and investments, please subscribe to the magazine. It might be the best investment you ever make.