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Economic Forecasts

The Power of Print

Here at Kiplinger, we love the business of print publishing, and we're committed to it.

A worthy competitor of this magazine, SmartMoney, is ceasing print publication this month, and I, for one, am not gloating. Why? Because the intractable problems that put it under—falling advertising and subscription revenues—are plaguing many excellent magazines these days, including this one.

My colleagues and I try each month to help you manage your personal finances. Now I’m asking you to help us keep doing this, by sharing your thoughts about the state of print publishing today. Here are some things to think about:

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You apparently like to hold reading material in your hands: magazines, newspapers, newsletters, books. Like me, you probably also visit financial Web sites (such as our own Kiplinger.com) and find a lot of useful information there, too. What are the unique benefits of each medium?

From surveys we know that our readers are among the most highly educated and affluent of all magazine readers. They tell market researchers that they really trust this magazine, and they spend a lot of time with each issue.

But advertisers—whose support is vital to all media—don’t seem to acknowledge the print audience of which you are part. They are abandoning magazines at a steady pace, apparently believing that they can reach you more effectively on Web sites, including ours. I think they are missing something. There’s a special bond between quality magazines and their readers. What do you think?

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There’s also a problem with the other financial mainstay of publishing: subscriptions. In a world of plentiful free content, many readers, especially young adults, are unwilling to pay anything for information. Even fans of magazines seem less willing to pay once-typical prices for subscriptions—say, $24, $36 or $48 for a year of service.

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When this magazine was launched in 1947, as the first magazine of personal finance advice, it was priced at a lofty $6 a year—the equivalent of more than $60 today. But today it’s tough for any magazine, including ours, to attract new subscribers with an introductory offer of just $10 a year.

Why do many consumers who gladly pay $4 for a latte at Starbucks—sometimes every day—balk at paying even $1 for an issue of a useful magazine that we’ll mail to their home every month for a year?

Interestingly, this pricing dilemma doesn’t plague all print publications, as it does most magazines and newspapers. For example, readers of our Kiplinger Letters, Retirement Report and new Investing for Income newsletter seem fine with paying much higher subscription prices than for a magazine. I really appreciate their support—and the patronage of all of the loyal subscribers to this magazine who pay $24 a year.

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Back in the 1990s, when magazine revenues were buoyed by a surging stock market and an insatiable public appetite for financial advice, personal finance publishing was a crowded field. The magazine category included Kiplinger’s, Money, SmartMoney, Family Money, Your Money, Mutual Funds, Individual Investor and Bloomberg Personal Finance. Today all but two of these, Kiplinger’s and Money, are gone.

Here at Kiplinger, we’re gratified that our Web audience continues to grow, but we love the business of print publishing, and we’re committed to it. We’re passionate about serving you with sound counsel, and I welcome your ideas about how we can continue doing so in this format—and also cover our costs. Please contact me at readerinput@kiplinger.com. Thank you!

P.S. We’re pleased to be the media partner of Financial Planning Days in October. In 25 cities, hundreds of financial advisers, including Certified Financial Planners, will be volunteering to give you sound advice on your money matters, in one-on-one or group sessions. They won’t be selling anything or soliciting your patronage; it’s all about educating you.

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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.

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