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Paste Mag to Readers: What Are We Worth to You?

Music Title Offers Pay-What-You-Want Subscriptions

By Published on .

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Radiohead isn't the only music brand looking to experiment with business models. Paste magazine has adopted the pay-what-you-want model for its yearly subscriptions for the next two weeks, with minimum payments starting at $1. Those who pay more than the music magazine's normal $19.95 annual price (11 issues a year with 11 CD samplers), however, will be thanked in print in a forthcoming issue of Paste.
Like most magazines, the 5-year-old Paste is 'still very much trying to figure out the circulation story,' its publisher said.
Like most magazines, the 5-year-old Paste is 'still very much trying to figure out the circulation story,' its publisher said.

'Feedback mechanism'
Although the announcement may seem like a shameless theft of Radiohead's thunder, Paste's president and publisher, Tim Regan-Porter, said he and his Atlanta-based staff had been tossing the concept around during their discussions of the book "Good to Great" by Jim Collins. On the day of Radiohead's announcement to offer their new album "In Rainbows" exclusively online for an optional fee, the staff happened to be reading the book's example of a company who let customers strike a line through their bills. "We saw it as a feedback mechanism, and sort of put that together with Radiohead and said, 'That's a great way for us to know how much our product means to people.'"

Like most magazines, the 5-year-old Paste is "still very much trying to figure out the circulation story," Mr. Regan-Porter said. He pegs the current circ at around 180,000 this year, a 20% increase from last year. For 2008, the plan is to raise the rate base by 11%, "and we're largely there," he said. The subscriber base is 120,000.

Launched in the fall of 2002 as a meaningful music-based magazine for the folk-and-indie set, Paste lured big-ticket singer-songwriters like Sarah McLachlan, John Mayer and Rufus Wainwright to grace its early covers as it attracted readers and expanded its content. Now the title has expanded its table of contents to include all pop culture, with extra attention given to film and literature. In 2005, Mr. Regan-Porter introduced a DVD with short-film and music-video content to the magazine, but was forced to pull the disc after several months due to the prohibitive costs.

"We didn't really have the size or resources to get good sponsorships," he said. "We were growing our rate base both on newsstand and subscribers very rapidly, but the cost just leapt too high."

Key findings
The key findings for this two-week experiment will be whether or not the magazine is worth the full $20 to its loyal fan base -- not to mention to the new readers who could potentially be lured by the prospect of paying a $1 for a year's worth of magazines and CDs.

Historically, gifts and donations have been huge sources of subscription revenue for the magazine, which Mr. Regan-Porter hopes to see more of through this experiment. But the larger goal is to increase the subscriber base. "If someone had a $50 budget and wants to pay us that much for a subscription, great. But I would rather get 50 $1 subscriptions than one $50 subscription."
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