I found my Model Railroader e-mail newsletter in my “in” box a few minutes ago and had the same reaction I’ve always had. But this time I’m going to say something about it here.
Kalmbach doesn’t get it. Neither does Taunton Press , publisher of my other favorite magazine, Fine Cooking. Not too long ago both publishers derived all of their revenues from advertising, subscriptions and newsstand sales. With the advent of the Web, both companies claimed the opportunity to drive subscription sales by building a wall into their respective Web sites. The Web hates walls, i.e. the Web users who want to rely on these sites for added value for the magazine. Or, as MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte argues, in the digital world “information wants to be free.”
I buy Model Railroader at my favorite hobby shop, Riverdale Station, in metro Atlanta, and Fine Cooking at the Publix near my home. That way I have a pristine copy unmutilated by the USPS and a more comfortable cash flow. Magazine publishers are under accounting rules that don’t allow them to book subscription revenue all at once. They can book revenue only incrementally as each issue covered by a subscription is actually published. But that doesn’t prevent them from earning interest off a subscription in the meantime.
There are sober and successful business models in operation these days that work because you make more money by giving away for free services that people really want. I’m working on one now. I had a four hour meeting with colleagues today to finalize structural issues. We’re creating a marketplace for a certain profession to freely exchange resources. Free! Oh, by the way, members can also sell resources for modest amounts and the enterprise collects a fee for each for-profit transaction. After all, it costs time and money to create and maintain the market place.
The Model Railroader Web site should be entirely free. It would drive more sales of the magazine, more subscriptions by people who find extensive resources on the Web site, and… it might even attract more people to the hobby! How about that, Kalmbach? You prosper by growing the business.
Now, one more thing. I have a collection of every issue of MR over the past 30 years. I can access an index and find anything I want to support a modeling project, etc. But new “arrivals” to the hobby don’t have that advantage. I recently had the opportunity to have lunch with a corporate vice president of Apple who acknowledged some hesitancy in getting into the music business. But, what it meant was the company built a global distribution platform for digital media. Kalmbach, give away the current issues of the newsletter without a wall. Build a site for back issues, searchable by topics, and charge $0.99 per download. I bet you’d increase revenues substantially and build a franchise that’s really open to the future. If you need help, Kalmbach, let me know.