Updated on 07.30.14

Evaluating My Magazine Subscriptions: Which Ones Are Worth It And Which Ones Aren’t?

Trent Hamm

A while back, I discussed five principles of deciding whether or not to subscribe to a magazine. Here they are, in nutshell form:

Do I actually read the magazine?
Would I buy the magazine on the newsstand if I didn’t subscribe?
Does the information in the magazine directly affect my bottom line?
Could I just read it at the library?
Would it make a good gift instead of paying for it?

These questions are quite useful in filtering out potential magazines you might subscribe to, but I currently face a different conundrum. Since many of my subscriptions were given to me as Christmas gifts, I’m facing a pile of renewal notices. This means I have to evaluate my subscriptions to see if I wish to renew them or let them expire, a rather different situation than trying to decide if I want to subscribe. Here are my four signs that I should let a magazine subscription cancel itself.

For starters, I currently subscribe to The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s, Mother Jones, Wired, Consumer Reports, Money, and Make.

I have multiple unread issues of the magazine and have made no effort to read them. This is a sure death knell. If I’m letting them build up significantly, that means I’m not really bothering to read them after all, which means that my subscription is money blowing in the wind. This eliminates Harper’s – I have several issues of this backed up while I devour the current issue of other magazines.

The magazine’s content is largely available for free online. Wired has had a few of the best articles I’ve ever read anywhere (Why The Future Doesn’t Need Us by Bill Joy comes to mind), but if I’m willing to stay an issue or two behind, I can read most of the worthwhile stuff online. I don’t really need the technolust in my house, anyway.

The aspects of the magazine that interested you at first aren’t representative of an average issue. Here, Mother Jones comes to mind. I read an issue with two brilliant articles in it and I thought it was a well-written magazine portraying a sensible liberal perspective. As I got several issues in the mail, though, it became clear that the magazine had a very strong leftist bent, to the point of often seeming irrational to me. I’ll read one article that seems sensible, then I’ll read something that just comes off as foundationally wrong. In the current issue, a great article outlining treatments given to autistic children is immediately followed by a piece of rubbish about Hillary Clinton’s faith and a few snide taunts about the Senate’s Prayer Breakfast that people from both parties attend. You know, you can write intelligent and well-written articles with both a leftist and a rightist perspective without resorting to base immaturity and taunting. Mother Jones is going in my trash can.

My interests have moved on. Although this doesn’t really apply to the magazines here, this has resulted in a lot of subscription cancellations in my past. Sports Illustrated and Golf Digest both bit the dust for this reason – I kept finding less and less that piqued my interest, even though their content wasn’t really changing. If you find that you’re now reading maybe one article per issue of a magazine you used to devour, ask yourself if your interests are changing. If they are, cut the cord and save your money.

The magazine is overpriced. Make could potentially be in this category as it’s the most expensive one I subscribe to by far, but so far I’ve burnt many hours on each issue and have every one of them stored in the closet so I can do some of the projects with my son and daughter when they grow older. I generally look at it this way – if a subscription to a magazine is costing you more than $1/hour of your enjoyment of it, you’re likely overpaying for it – just look at it at the library or newsstand.

This leaves me with The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Make. I am on the border with Consumer Reports and Money – the fact that I review them here means I’ll likely continue getting them, but without that impetus I would likely move to an online subscription of CR and just read Money at the library once every few months like I do with Kiplinger’s and SmartMoney.

Being realistic about my magazines will save me about $50 in the coming year without any significant loss to my reading diet.

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  1. John says:

    I find Consumer Reports to be less and less interesting as time goes on. I don’t think they will ever find a car that satisfies them and their focus is on items that one does not purchase every day (at least for me).

  2. Christine says:

    I’ve been ordering free magazine subscriptions with mycokerewards.com. I have my friends and family saving me the points they would normally throw away. Once my free subscriptions are over I will be going back to the library to read better magazines.

    So far the free magazines I have received are: Smart Money, Self, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Oprah at Home and House Beautiful.

    I bought myself a townhouse last week and appreciate all the free entertainment these will give me throughout the winter months!

  3. David says:

    Mother Jones is a “leftist” magazine, so you should expect it to be “left”.

  4. FIRE Finance says:

    This is such a great post on evaluating necessary (or unnecessary) expenses. We used to order tonnes of magazines for which we never had time to read. Eventually they would end up in our trash.

    For the past couple of years, we stopped paid subscription to all magazines except for some FREE ones. Till date we have never missed our magazines.

    The internet and the blogosphere provides us with so much to read that we have a hard time keeping up. Plus the hundreds of dollars that we save each year keeps us on our track to early retirement.

    Once again, thanks for the great post.

  5. Mary says:

    You know what magazine I love? National Geographic. I love the pictures, I love that I learn something new every time I read it, and I love the way a whole bunch of them look all stacked up on a shelf together – really classes up a room, as I like to joke.

    I got my subscription for about $20 a year, and gift ones are even cheaper. Sure, it’s not the most frugal thing, but it makes me happy to take that time out every month and gawk at beautiful pictures.

  6. Tyler says:

    I eagerly subscribed to The Economist last winter. It’s an expensive magazine, but has so many great articles. It was a weekly, and I found myself struggling to keep up with it. I just don’t have enough free time to read that much magazine each week. If the same mag was a monthly, I would definitely be in the black when it comes to cost-benefit.

    They’ve opened up their website substantially, and now I read online once in a while. Sure, I don’t get quite as much out of it, but I’m not shelling out the cash for articles I don’t have time to read either.

  7. Can’t you still review CR each month if you subscribe online? All of the content in the magazine shows up online (and is available to subscribers), right?

  8. Josh says:

    Something about online subscriptions I just can’t get by head around. I’ve tried it. But its just not the same. The last one that comes to mind is Popular Mechanics (which I love by the way) using the “Zinio” reader. UGH! I have a 19″ widescreen and it still isn’t worth the switch from traditional print. That said, it is good to use the online format to pick and choose specific articles once they’re a month or two dated like you spoke about.

  9. You should give The Economist a try. I think you’ll like it.

    Their website has all the content from their recent issues, so you can try before subscribing..

  10. Grace says:

    Money Magazine subscriptions are readily available on Ebay. I’ve renewed there annually and never paid more than $10 a year. Once I paid $6.49! Right now, I’m partially through a three-year subscription I got for $28.

    I’ve also gotten Oprah and Vanity Fair subscriptions from Ebay.

    Is there a used-magazine store in your town? My city has two. I go there for Real Simple, Ms., and Mother Jones (hey, I LIKE those lefty mags, what can I say?).

    Lots of folks subscribe to the New Yorker and never catch up–I take the old issues off their hands.

  11. guinness416 says:

    It seems (to me anyway) that most publications nowadays have significant content online, more than a few years ago. I just found out that Vanity Fair puts a lot of their stuff online, I know for a fact they didn’t post any 3 or 4 years ago. I still like physically reading long articles on the subway though, I can’t read mutiple pages on a screen, so I print them out at work.

  12. Scarfish says:

    I don’t pay for magazine subscriptions–I don’t like paying to be advertised to, and in a journalism class a few years ago we compared the number of pages of actual content to the number of pages of straight advertising and advertorials. It was more than 50% advertising. Admittedly, womens’ magazines are one of the worst culprits of this, but I’ve not paid for a magazine since then.

    I’ll read at the library, use a points system for free subscriptions, or browse and B&N. Most magazines don’t have all that much useful content in them anyway, and leave me feeling unsatisfied with my life (same thing that happens when I watch too much television) so I’m better off without them.

    I would like a subscription to Reader’s Digest, though–I’ve never seen it on one of the points sites I use, but I used to read each issue cover to cover several times when I lived with someone who had a sub.

  13. Peter says:

    Going through such a list of magazine subscriptions gives me the same reaction as when Dave Ramsey describes eating cheap as “Kraft Mac & Cheese” for dinner. Kraft? I only get the name brand when I’m feeling rich! Like the save money while golfing tips, some people have to cut back a long ways before reaching where some of us live every day.

  14. Jared says:

    Instructables.com is a wonderful free alternative to Make magazine (started by one of the contributors to Make…

  15. Dawn says:

    Trent, you mentioned some of the magazines were gifts that are now on renewal-be careful that the person who gave it to you initially does not renew something that you are also renewing. This happened to me, and I got 2 copies for a 2 months before I was able to get the magazine to credit the extra money to the following year. A lot of people who give a magazine gift like the convenience of renewing it for the person as the gift again the next year.

  16. Ed says:

    How does the points system work for free magazines?

    Also – how does Ebay work for magazine subscriptions? Are they auctioned off by the magazines themselves?

  17. Michelle says:

    Trent- have you tried getting on the comped subscription list to the magazines you enjoy?

    You mention you review them on your site, I would call the advertising sales people at each of these publications and tell them you have close to 16,000 regular subscribers on your blog who are interested in their magazine and this topic. You will provide them the free advertising (banner ads, reviews etc) if they add you to their list to recieve each month, or some other type of negotiation.

    I work as a media buyer and purchase the ad space in magazines, I get more free subscriptions then I know what to do with. The publications can add anyone they think may advertise with them or would benefit them. Just a thought.

  18. Don says:


    Here’s an idea to save money on magazine subscriptions:

    I share my mag subscriptions with a good friend. All the mags (National Geographic, Forbes, Newsweek) are sent to his house. We both have no need to read any of these magazines immediately. So I go by his place occasionally to pick up a stack of magazines to read through at leisure.
    This cuts my effective cost of magazine subscriptions by half since we share the cost. I live pretty far from his house but the cost of driving my car over there doesn’t overtake the savings; plus, I maintain a friendship with a friend because we talk about the magazine articles and chat everytime I come over.

    And where I’m at, we get a tax deduction on book/magazine purchases so we take turns paying for the subscription each year to claim or tax benefit. We’re in our third year of subscriptions.

    This works great for me because I don’t feel that I have to keep the magazines once I’m done (although I do keep the NGS maps for myself). It also helps that my friend is fairly organized and has my stack of unread mags ready each time I pop by-I call ahead.

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