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

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.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.