Updated on 10.17.11

Some Thoughts on Magazine Subscriptions

Trent Hamm

Kelly writes in:

Do you subscribe to any magazines? Why? Do you find enough value in them to be worth the cost?

This was originally a question in Thursday’s reader mailbag, but the answer became long enough that I felt it deserved a post of its own.

Sarah and I get several different magazines in the mail. Most of these magazines come about from buying magazine subscriptions from the children of neighbors who are trying to raise funds for their activities, which we try to support. It’s not an overwhelming cost for us and it facilitates good relationships with the neighbors while also supporting youth activities.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t try to maximize our value from these orders. Over time, we’ve come up with something of a philosophy for deciding what magazines to order when those neighbor kids come around. The reason? It’s just another opportunity to maximize the value of each dollar we spend.

So, here’s how we decide which magazines to order when this situation comes up.

Magazines of direct professional use Sarah teaches science classes, so if she’s ordering, she’ll tend to choose magazines like Discover or Scientific American. For my own writing, I used to look at personal finance magazines like Money, but now I find more value in things like Businessweek and The Economist.

Why? We love our jobs, simply put. We enjoy reading about things related to our chosen careers. Doing so makes us better at those things, too.

Magazines covering activities we enjoy engaging in This mostly applies to cooking magazines, which is what we typically order if we don’t have any career-oriented options. Magazines like Bon Appetit and Vegetarian Times fill in the gap here.

Why? With a family of five, food is a major part of our monthly finances and a significant part of our time, too. Food preparation is also something Sarah and I both enjoy doing. We love experimenting, and having children on hand to try out our experiments makes it even more of an interesting challenge.

Challenging general interest magazines By these, we mean things like The New Yorker and The Atlantic – magazines with long, in-depth articles that strive to actually teach something to the reader on a variety of topics.

Why? Neither Sarah nor I like to read if it doesn’t challenge us in some way. Articles in magazines like these consistently do that.

Virtually always, we can find a magazine that fits into one of these three groups.

Do we renew? Once we’ve subscribed, we keep a careful eye on how much we read that particular magazine. Are there issues left unread? Do we get something valuable out of the issues that we do read? Do we take action or rethink our viewpoints because of something we read in those magazines?

Generally, when we do renew, we wait until there’s another child at our doorstep asking us to buy a magazine subscription. That way, we get both the value of the magazine and the social value of supporting neighbors and community.

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  1. valleycat1 says:

    We don’t subscribe. I still occasionally buy one when at the bookstore (usually one I’ve never seen before, like some of the photography, art or design magazines) or grocery, but find we can track down just about any info the magazines cover online for free.

    I haven’t missed the magazines, and not being exposed to all those ads has helped curb the shopping urge. Over time, it seems the mainstream magazines just recycle the same stuff.

  2. lurker carl says:

    Magazines now automatically renew once they get your credit card number. Some publishers send out courtesy subscriptions for other rags they print and require you to cancel it within three months or so, otherwise you’ll get magazines you never requested and have them charged directly to your credit card. Cancelling isn’t easy, be careful how you pay.

  3. kristine says:

    The school gets a tiny fraction of the subscription price. Instead, write a check for half that amount to the school and hand it to the kid. (They will still come out ahead!) Some, like Atlantic Monthly, can be read online for free. You can also read mags at the library when you drop off books. You save, and even better, the school/cause gets more as well. (It can also be used as a teaching moment about commissions/percentage.)

    I have never liked the way some schools turn children into a sales force that does more to boost the suppliers bottom line than the school’s bottom line. I feel no need to encourage it. How about asking people to pledge a certain amount for every week in which a whole class misses no HW? Parents, friends and relatives could “sponsor” their class! The positive loop astounds.

  4. John says:

    Is it possible to renew a magazine by buying it from the kid? Say I have 6 months of The Atlantic and I buy a year from the kid selling on my block. Will they just add that year to the back of my 6 month Atlantic subscription (So I have 18 months now?) Or will I will they just start sending me two copies of The Atlantic a month?

  5. Josh says:

    Agree with #3 Kristine.

  6. Liz says:

    @4: Yes, you could renew on those sales, or at least it was back in the dark ages when I sold magazines for school.
    That was part of our sales pitch. Most of us didn’t bother trying for new sales, we just went after renewals. Later my brother and sisters went after my renewal customers, too. I think with the company we worked with we had to include your customer number from your mailing label and make sure that we signed you up the same way (John J. Jingleheimerschmidt, as opposed to just John) on the new form.

  7. John says:

    Thanks Liz!

  8. valleycat1 says:

    Where we live, most of the fundraisers the children are required to participate in result in the parents having to take the stuff to work to sell, as parents don’t want their children knocking on strangers’ doors. I always just give a donation rather than buying, and I’ve had no indication of hard feelings from anyone if I choose not to contribute to a given cause.

    When my child was in middle school, the parents’ association voted to just ask for a dollar amount contribution from each child’s family at the beginning of the year. A minimum was suggested but no pressure to give anything, and a lot of parents gave more – we came out ahead of our goal every year doing that, with minimum time by parents, kids and teachers spent on collecting the funds & dealing with the vendors.

  9. Carole says:

    I’ve had several magazine subscriptions automatically renew and I originally pay with checks. They just keep sending them with a bill telling you that you are overdue in paying them. You have to make the effort to write them or email that you don’t want it anymore. I resent this and will certainly think twice in the future before starting a new subscription.

  10. Melody says:

    Most magazines I enjoy reading come out with free subscriptions fairly frequently – sometimes through ‘Rewards Gold’ (completely free) or through recyclebank.com (earn points by taking quizzes, get free magazines). Right now I get Martha Stewart Living, Whole Living, Shape, Women’s Day – all for fun. Green Source, EcoStructure, and Photographer – professional. I’ve seen Forbes and Businessweek frequently offered as well.

    However, I will always pay for one magazine – Mother Earth News. Completely worth it.

  11. josh says:

    I can’t remember the last time I actually paid for a magazine subscription, but I get about 8 mainstream subscriptions for free. I could understand paying if it was something more obscure.

  12. krantcents says:

    I still get a couple free industry magazines. I find inexpensive subscription rates on the internet. I subscribe to Fast Company for $8.22 for 3 years (30 issues).

  13. Steve says:

    I only get magazines when I need to spend frequent flier miles on something to prevent their expiration. I barely keep up with those few subscriptions. I absolutely refuse to buy anything from people selling door to door (and over the phone), no matter who they are or what they claim their student status is.

  14. Andrew says:

    You can almost always get a magazine renewal for far less than the standard rate. Simply find one of their low-priced printed offers–typically for new subscribers–and call customer service. Ask, politely, that you be given this rate as a renewal.

    This has worked with every magazine I’ve ever subscribed to with the sole exception of the New Yorker.

    If your. Subscription is on auto-renewal just make sure to do this before it auto-renews.

    This must be done over the phone–you cannot do it online.

  15. deRuiter says:

    If you are a member of “MyPoints” you get frequent offers for discount magazine subscription prices. If you click on the window you get five points (good for 2 1/2 airline miles when you accumulate a certain number of points)even if you don’t buy a magazine. If you do buy magazines at these reduced rates, you get bonus points towards airline miles as well as cheap subscriptions. I don’t subscribe any more, I buy loads of like new magazines at yard sales and thrift stores for around a quarter each, five for a dollar. The how to articles, decorator articles and recipes don’t become dated in the few weeks or months it takes for folks to discard these at yard sales.

  16. Jenny says:

    Many magazines I really like now have what they call “continuous service”. I tried to drop a few subscriptions by emailing, calling, and finally writing, but they largely ignore the requests to cancel. It took loads of time and bother to finally have them stop. I am done with this! If I want my magazine I will buy it at the grocery checkout. It is scary to think that you will keep paying for a subscription the rest of your life this way. There really needs to be a law enforcing that they allow unsubscribing promptly!

  17. Jane says:

    This is a nice list of respectable magazines. Don’t get me wrong, we get some of those too. My favorite is the Week – a news magazine that distills news stories from print media. It at least tries to be balanced. I read it cover to cover every week. I am, however, not embarrassed to say I love to read my US Weekly at night when I’m so exhausted I can’t concentrate on anything else. We got the subscription at a deep discount. Maybe it’s just a stage of life for me (young kids and the exhaustion they bring), but I just cannot get through a long article in the Atlantic. I tried Mother Earth News or other “respectable” magazines, but I never read them. So I stick to my trashy ones.

  18. valleycat1 says:

    For magazines we only read a few of the articles in, we just go to their website & read for free. Even if they don’t post everything from the issue online, there’s plenty out there.

  19. slccom says:

    Good Housekeeping has harassed me for years. I told them twice that I am not interested in renewing, and when they ignored that, I just let them send me letters and toss them.

  20. littlepitcher says:

    I subscribe only to one computer mag. They require manual approval of renewal, even if by card, and gave me a huge discount for ordering an extra year at renewal time. When I am finished with the magazine, it goes to a retired office-store employee and from there, to the local seocndhand store, where I get the rest of my magazines when they are available.
    This magazine usually pays for itself in skills and anti-malware or product info. My usual sources of magazines are Sally Ann (Salvation Army) or neighborhood garage sales.

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