Costco Model for Auto Mags?

Automobile Membership Card by SorgenfreiMuch has been written about the death of print media and we’ve witnessed the passing of newspapers and magazines on a monthly basis. It is a “sign of the times” as they say and on some level, it is the economy’s way of weeding out the superfluous media outlets. As avid car enthusiasts, we worry about the future of our favorite sources of fantasy in print: the automotive magazine. So we sat down to brainstorm about ways that car rags could reinvent themselves.

The Advertising Model is Dead. Long Live Advertising

It is time to reinvent the car magazine and advertising isn’t the part of the solution – at least in the way advertising is executed today. As marketing dollars dry up and online properties promise the ability to track a users every move online, advertisers are moving away from glossy, 4-color advertising spreads in magazines to the “new” world of online display advertising. On some level you can’t blame them. When you have to fight for every penny in a budget, it is becoming more important to account for every cent. Print advertising, despite what publishers say, simply can’t be tracked in the same manner.

There is no doubt things in publishing are changing rapidly but instead of simply pointing out the obvious, we selfishly want to come up with a solution. After all, we want our auto magazines (A.K.A. “Car Porn”) for the airplane, the beach and yes, even the bathroom.

Benefits of Membership

Our proposal is that the magazines forgo print advertising altogether. The current business model in print publishing cannot compete with the sexy new media that is cheaper, more flexible and measurable. That doesn’t mean giving up on advertising altogether, rather, we suggest that they re-purpose the relationships between the publication, its subscribers and the advertisers.

Think Costco. People pay a yearly fee to get access to discounts and high quality goods purchased in bulk. For most, the savings realized more than pay for the membership cost. For others, the fee is the cost of entry to the occasional deal on electronics or party supplies. In either case, Costco has a steady income stream that they can utilize to perpetuate the machine. They pass on savings to their members but still make a profit on the items they sell. Why can’t magazines adopt a similar model?

Currently, magazines are in a race for circulation so they can charge for the eyeballs that they claim to get every month. Part of that race is to keep subscription rates ridiculously low to entice people to subscribe. This may have worked in the past but as ad rates fall it is clear that it isn’t sustainable. What about this: raise the subscription price considerably to cover more of the costs and give their subscribers access to “members only” benefits that are useful, tangible and shock(!), measurable.

The idea is simple; the advertisers are now called business partners. The publisher, much like Costco, works with the business partners to offer discounts to its “members”. With the yearly subscription, a reader gets discounts on related products that they use often – think fuel, repair, tires, insurance, after market parts etc. Access to the discounts can be via an online or mobile portal or even an affinity card – all of which is measurable. The business partners pay to be exclusive partners or pay the publisher for every transaction undertaken by the subscriber.

Circulation will certainly go down as subscription rates go up but without the dependence on traditional advertising, fewer magazines are required to meet profitability goals. Of course, people who buy off the rack may pay more as well but even now, they are paying premium to read content that is outnumbered by advertising and littered with those incredibly annoying subscription cards.

In order for this model to work, the content in print must be more in-depth, entertaining and different than what is available online. There also must be clear value to paying a premium for an advertising-free publication.

Consumer Reports is essentially implementing this model to a certain degree but they don’t cater to the true car enthusiast – who, for the record, is more influenced by the content than any print ad that is in current publications. Magazines like Automobile already provide a higher standard of journalism and photography. Why not increase the price of entry, implement ways to add value for the “members” and track the efficacy of those efforts at the same time? And just think, subscribers won’t have to deal with all those subscription cards falling into the toilet the next time they sit down read a review!

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One thought on “Costco Model for Auto Mags?

  1. Watt D Fark says:

    Well, you might want to look at Cook’s Illustrated for a model of that. High copy price, no ads, not a lot of discounting (some, though) a very predictable and comprehensive approach to recipe and equipment testing, and cover art suitable for framing. Might work…

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