Magazine Subscriptions: Are They Worth It?

I currently subscribe to seven magazines: The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s, Mother Jones, Wired, Consumer Reports, and Money. That seems like a lot, but it’s actually down from the ten magazines I subscribed to before my son was born.

Why so many magazine subscriptions? There are two reasons, really: one, I ask for them as gifts a lot, and two, I actually read them. I leave the newest issues out on the table for guests to flip through (my father-in-law basically reads The New Yorker and The Atlantic cover to cover when he visits) and for me to read in my spare time; when it’s time to rotate them, I read anything I may have missed, save the New Yorker covers for art projects, and then toss them.

On the other hand, for many people magazine subscriptions are a great waste of money. They sit around gathering dust and end up being lost money for the people who subscribe.

In my opinion, when you’re looking for fat to trim from your budget, magazines should be one of the first places to look. Ask yourself these questions:

Do I actually read the magazine? Don’t idealize the question by saying, “Well, I would if I had time…” If you say that, then you don’t read the magazine and it’s probably a pretty good clue that you shouldn’t be subscribing. Note that this doesn’t mean you have to read every issue, just a large portion of them.

Would I buy the magazine on the newsstand if I didn’t subscribe? This is what actually got me to subscribe to at least three of the magazines above – I kept reading it on the newsstand and often buying an issue. If you find yourself buying even a quarter of the issues of a magazine on the newsstand, it’s more cost-effective just to subscribe to the magazine.

Does the information in the magazine directly affect my bottom line? This is a big reason why I subscribe to Consumer Reports. Prior to writing the issue reviews on The Simple Dollar, I used to primarily subscribe so I could use their online service as a reference to aid in product purchases. Thus, I will likely subscribe to Consumer Reports for the indefinite future, especially since there are several purchases coming up that I will consult Consumer Reports on.

Could I just read it at the library? This is why I stopped subscribing to Science and The Economist – I could easily read them both at the library during my weekly visit (I spend a couple of hours there each week, usually on Thursday evenings, reading periodicals and exchanging books).

Would it make a good gift instead of paying for it? I traditionally receive a few of my magazine subscriptions as gifts from relatives, because it is a great gift that I appreciate throughout the whole year. Would I subscribe on my own? I’m not entirely sure, but I am sure that I do really appreciate receiving a renewal as a gift.

Addressing each of these questions made it clear that if I were completely subscribing on my own, including no gifts or anything else, I would only subscribe to The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Consumer Reports, and I am very strongly considering subscribing to Make. This would easily trim more than 50% from my magazine spending in a year.

Take a look at what you’re doing with your magazines – you might be surprised to find the fat that you can excise from your spending.

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  1. Jeff says:

    OK, first comment. Just want to add that Make is great read plus if you set up the subscription to debt you credit or debt card they give you a special deal at no extra charge. Access to their on-line library.

  2. alex says:

    I currently am at the end of my People (my wife loves it) and Harper’s subscriptions. Does anyone know a good website or other method to obtain discounted subscription rates?

  3. Brett McKay says:

    I think magazine subscriptions are the perfect gift. My wife’s grandmother bought me a subscription to Men’s Health and I’ve really enjoyed it. I wouldn’t buy the magazine myself, though. For most of my magazine reading, I go to Borders and just sit in the cafe and read.

  4. M says:

    RSS feeds are better than newspapers and magazines.

  5. UncleOxidant says:

    I’ve concluded that magazine subscriptions are a waste. The information is often dated by the time you get it. The web is basically rendering magazines obsolete… and that’s not only saving us money, it means less trees are being killed.

  6. Beth says:

    The internet alone doesn’t make subscriptions obsolete, because the information out there can be hard to find, or cost money to access, or flat-out wrong/deliberately misleading/slanted in some way (for example see http://whitehouse.org/). However, electronic databases DO make up for a stack of back issues of magazines. For example, I can get full-text access to Consumer Reports from my library and therefore skip a subscription.

    I access my library’s web page, then their electronic databases, then the one called MasterFILE Premier, enter my library card (which is memorized, but also saved to a text file on my computer), then specify that I want full-text results from Consumer Reports. Then I search for whatever I’m shopping for – most recently, knives and garden clippers for Mother’s day.

    Now, they don’t have the most-current information, and because of the digital copyright act, not all articles/graphics from all journals are collected in electronic databases. Nor do you have any guarantee that data will really stick around. And if my library drops its subscription, I’m out of luck. BUT at least I’m not dragging around x years of Consumer Reports in the meantime!

  7. Trent says:

    UncleOxidant: it is basically impossible to find the quality of writing that you find in The New Yorker or The Atlantic online. Those articles are extremely well-researched, well-conceived, and well-written. I will agree, though, that magazines like this are the exception rather than the rule.

  8. Simple Choice Living says:

    I’ve given up on magazines. They pile up, I don’t like all the ads, I end up not reading them, then feel guilty for wasting money/trees/room space and not doing anything about it.

    There will always be a place for the printed page, but with the even playing field of the Internet I just can’t see how many of the magazines can compete off line. Unless the target audience of the magazine caters mainly to non-Internet users.

  9. Nathaniel says:

    I agree with previous posters that most magazine subscriptions are a waste with the info you can get on the web now. This especially true for magazines targeted at a specific topic, such as computer magazines.

    However, I do subscribe to the New Yorker. I have yet to find another source of such consistently high quality writing (on or offline), and even though most of the New Yorker is available online, if I’m going to read a 5000 word essay I’d rather not do it on my computer screen. I highly recommend it.

  10. beloml says:

    I love magazines and subscribe to a dozen or so, everything from women’s fashion to nerd publications like the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly and Harpers. For me it’s a pleasurable escape from everyday life, and most subscriptions are only a dollar or two per month.

  11. Shadox says:

    For a while I used to get WSJ delivered. It’s a great paper, and I really loved it, but I never had the time to read it. It got to the point where I started saving up my daily papers in a big box, and tried to get through them during the weekend. Until I finally figured out that if I didn’t have time to read, the subscription was probably not a good use of my money.

    In recent years, I cut down on my magazine subscriptions too for the same reason, I used to get 7 or 8, but now only get Scientific American and Sky and Telescope. I buy other magazines at the newstand, if the mood strikes. Surprisingly, I don’t think that I save a great deal of money, because the cost of a subscription is typically dramatically reduced compared to the newstand price of a single issue… oh, well.

  12. kellie says:

    The thing that stuck with me from this post is that you toss your magazine’s once you are done with them. You toss them? Why not donate them to your local library, donate them to a local retirement community, hospital, etc Or even Freecycle them. Why toss them when you can give them to someone else who would appreciate them???

  13. Gal Josefsberg says:

    This is one time I disagree with you Trent. I used to subscribe to multiple magazines but I’ve found that I can get equivalent information for free online. Through a multitude of blogs, news sites and reference sites, anything and everything is available on the web. It’s cheap (in that it’s free), it’s refreshed faster and it’s better for the environment (those magazines are horrible wastes of paper).

    GJ

  14. Canadian says:

    I have subscribed to up to three religious-oriented magazines in order to deepen my faith during odd moments of time (e.g. while taking public transportation). This year I stopped subscribing to two of them, not sure what I will do when the third one comes up for renewal. There are lots of other ways of deepening my faith, like reading classic devotional literature, and reading about the controversies in my denomination just makes me upset.

    For magazines like the New Yorker, why not check out your local public or university library? (Sometimes you can sign up to non-local libraries, like the New York Public Library whose databases you can access using a Research Libraries ACCESS card.) Other than reading the current issue in the library, you can often access the electronic subscription from home. I just checked and my library does in fact have an electronic subscription to the New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly. In some cases it might only be plain HTML text, no graphics.

  15. Trent, start a magazine exchange! I don’t know how deeply-rooted you are in your community, but if you have a network of friends, an infromal magazine exchange can save everyone money.

    The magazines I would keep (of those I subscribe to) are: The New Yorker, Harper’s, Cook’s Illustrated, and Consumer Reports.

    HOWEVER: The New Yorker is basically available for free on-line, and both Cook’s and CR offer web site subscriptions at lower cost than subscribing to the magazine. Since these site subscriptions give convenient access to past issues, they’re very tempting.

  16. kim says:

    I find that a magazine makes a wonderful gift – especially for a child. I give children from 6 months to 4 years Wild Animal Baby. Zoo Books is great for elementary aged students. If you have a Scout both Boys Life and Girls Life are high quality. I live far away from most of my family and a magazine subscription saves me several incidental costs such as gift wrap and shipping. I hand make all of my cards, so a gift of a subscription to a quality magazine costs me under $20!

  17. Michelle says:

    I read magazines while I eat breakfast.

    It’s too hard to keep a book flat for reading while I eat. I avoid web browsing in the morning, because I am usually about to go to work and spend 8 hours looking at a monitor.

    So magazines it is. I get The New Yorker, Wired, Scientific American, MIT Technology Review, Natural History (from the American Natural History Museum in New York), and a few others that I probably should drop because I don’t always read them.

    I also get Mother Earth News, but I save that for bedtime reading.

  18. Mel says:

    I agree with Kellie! I work at a hospital and bring all my old magazines here to waiting rooms. People are desparate for something to read inthe long waits.
    Just be sure to cut off any address on the front.

  19. Mitch says:

    I’ve gotten a lot of back issues of general audience magazines from the free magazine box at the library–so no problem with the New Yorker. When I do subscribe to magazines, they are more specialized things I won’t find in the bin, e.g. 32 Poems or User Experience. Plus a women’s magazine I found myself buying on every other grocery trip. I also like to get away from the computer now & then.

  20. PF says:

    I get most of my magazines for $6 year at

    http://www.discountmagazines.com

    including Kiplinger’s, which is a great magazine that anyone reading this blog would find useful. I also get Parent’s, Outside, Home, and Working Mother all for $6/year. For $6 year, I get my money’s worth. We don’t have TV, so magazines are nice.

    From that site I also get two very expensive but necessary magazines for us: Fine Homebuilding and Fine Woodworking for $23/year instead of $38. A fun magazine that we enjoy is American History, also purchased at a discount there.

  21. Rich Minx says:

    I was very interested in this post because I’ve just spent three years working for a magazine company so am very familiar with the topic!

    One, I would suggest befriending someone who works for such a company if you can – they get staff discounts on subscriptions (mine was 40% off) and can often ‘hook you up’.

    Two, yes most magazines have good websites now so it may be worth just looking at those unless you prefer the magazine format. (Also better for the environment.)

    Three, a magazine swap is a great idea. Magazine swaps are crucial in the small country I come from, with freight charges making US mags four to five times the original cover charge.

    And finally magazine companies usually do special promotions around Mother’s Day, Christmas etc with bonus gifts or discounts – always the best time to sign up.

  22. amanda says:

    I’m a total magazine junkie. I like to read them while I eat my lunch at work (don’t want to get crumbs on my laptop!), while I’m taking a bath, while I travel, etc.
    eBay is the *best* place for cheap magazine subscriptions. They come in the same amount of time as if you ordered direct from the publisher and the prices are fantastic – often a one year subscription is about the same price as one issue on the newsstand.

  23. Jackie says:

    I second the vote for ebay if you are purchasing a subscription. For some magazines I have managed to get a 3 year subscription for a monthly magazine for as little as $4. Since I like to read them at my own pace here and there and typically I spend a total of an hour or two with each issue, I figure it’s worth the small investment–especially when you figure I’m paying as little as 12-50 cents per issue.

  24. Mike says:

    Magazine subscriptions are a great way to spend frequent flier miles.

    If you don’t fly enough on a particular airline to get anything more valuable, you can pay for all of your annual magazine subscriptions with one flight.

  25. Jim says:

    I third that Ebay is the best place to find magazine subscriptions. I pay about $2/yr for Wired.

  26. MVP says:

    I love magazines! They’re perfect for low-attention-span people like me. I love to read books, but never quite have the time to finish them, so magazines are quick hits I can toss in my purse and pick up on lunch break, waiting for a meeting to start, in the bathtub or over breakfast. Since we began budgeting and paying off our debt, I let lapse all of my subscriptions, except Consumer Reports (which I consider a good money-saver). Like Mike, I found I had built up frequent flier miles that were about to expire (not enough for a plane ticket), so I got a couple of subscriptions for myself and a couple for gifts for friends. Hooray magazines!

  27. Bryan says:

    Just a side, I love the newsletter.

    One of the things I do with magazines that I read and want to keep is I cut out the pages I’m interested in and scan them and store them as JPEGs. This way I have a digital copy of the material I’m interested in and I can recycle the rest.

    eBay and frequent flier miles are definitely the best way to get magazine subs though.

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