Don’t believe me?Pop quiz, hotshot: Pick any magazine, first one that comes to mind, and check its subscription rate.What’s the most you would pay for a 12-issue subscription? If it’sless than $29.50, I’d argue that you won’t miss it much when it’s gonebecause you don’t place much value on its content. Further, if it’sbeing sold for less than $29.50, I’d argue that its publisher doesn’tplace much value on its content, either, so why should you?Most magazines are advertising platforms whose readers are definedas “targets,” valued in quantity over quality. When the advertisingrevenue stream dries up, the magazine usually folds, readers be damned.It’s a business model that has ruled fordecades, built upon a smoke and mirrors combo of deeply discounted,often unprofitable subscriptions, expensive newsstand distribution anddeceptive metrics long accepted as industry standards.The Business Model is BrokenThe most recent example of this flawed approach (“Why Portfolio Folded, And What It Means for Business Magazines”) is Condé Nast Portfolio,a much-ballyhooed entrant that attempted to muscle its way into acrowded business magazine marketplace that arguably didn’t need it,doing it the old-fashioned way and failing despite having a “total and verified circulation of 449,005”:“Our timing proved to be terrible in terms of building abig ad franchise from scratch,” group publisher David Carey told theAssociated Press. “We saw where we are and where we want to be in 18months. The gap between those two points was becoming bigger.”As a result of the closure, more than 85 employees will be let go…Billed as a business publication with big, bold articles and dynamicvisuals, Condé Nast reportedly spent more than $100 million to launchPortfolio in April 2007. The magazine watched ad pages plummet 60.9percent during the first quarter, according to Publishers InformationBureau figures.With advertising revenue less reliable than ever—overall ad spending declined another 15.1 percent in Q1 2009 (Bernstein’s Research)—this prolonged and brutal economic downturn will claim even moremagazines before the year is over, requiring the rapid development ofalternative revenue streams and pitting those still standing in anintriguing, high-stakes game of “Outwit, Outplay, Outlast.”One of the seemingly obvious steps to take would be to raise thedeeply discounted subscription rates that were formerly subsidized byadvertising, sending a clear message to readers (and advertisers) aboutthe true value of the content being published. While most magazineswould undoubtedly lose subscribers, those they retained would be more engaged and more responsive to relevantadvertising and direct-to-consumer offerings.Unfortunately, that decision brings up the one question so fewpublishers want to answer, but can no longer avoid: how much is theircontent really worth?You Get What You Pay ForIn part one of this blog series, I criticized Fast Company and Inc.for their combined subscription offer ($15 for 10 issues of eachmagazine), which effectively told me that my eyeballs are worth more thantheir content.Both are magazines I’ve picked up at the newsstand on occasion, atfull price, so I’m probably going to fill out that subscription cardbecause it’s such a great deal, effectively 20 issues for the price of3. Chances are good that between them, I’d buy three more issues onthe newsstand over the next year, so while I probably won’t be one oftheir most engaged readers, I really can’t lose.For most of their advertisers, though, unless they’re in it forbrand recognition and have some long-term plan to engage me, I’m prettymuch dead weight, fluffing the rate base they’re paying to reach,usually via ill-conceived, short-term interruption campaigns.As seen in the image above, the New Yorker and Portfolio were offering a similar combo that valuedthe former at $1.00 an issue and the latter at 83 cents an issue. Both are/wereprestigious, award-winning magazines that aim/ed a bit higher than theaverage editorial mission, but are/were priced as commodities instead ofthe premium offerings they aspire/d to be.Of the magazines I noted in my first post, I’d align them most closely with the Atlantic, which currently has a one-year, 10-issue subscription rate of $29.50.To answer my own pop quiz, which magazines would I pay $29.50 for a 12-issue subscription?The Atlantic: Probably; I already renewed for 3 years @$39.95, before their redesign and rate increase, but if they once againlocked down their online archives for subscribers only, I’d considerthe higher rate.Gourmet: I wouldn’t, but my wife might; especially for a subscribers-only online database of recipes and book deals.Garden & Gun: It’s a great lifestyle magazine with aliterary bent, featuring excellent writing and photography designedspecifically for the printed page. It’s more of a newsstand magazinefor me, though I’ve picked up every issue since I discovered it, but Icould imagine its core audience paying $29.50/year for a subscriptionas long as the content remained top-notch.Fast Company and Inc.: These are the kinds ofmagazines people are thinking about when they say the Internet iskilling print. They’re primarily advertising vehicles with solidcontent, all of which can be found on their websites for free. They’realso not must-reads for serious business people like the Harvard Business Review which sports a $99/year subscription rate, a $16.95 cover price and still has a solid advertising presence.Wired: It’s a fun, somewhat self-indulgent magazine, but not at all a must-read for anyone. Also, why isn’t it free?Content + Context = ValueI’m a firm believer that content is king and context is its equally powerful queen.I also believe the idea of individual blogs killing off newspapersand magazines is an exaggerated notion that’s making a lot of marketingsavvy individuals good money on the conference circuit, but doesn’treally hold up to scrutiny.My definition of a magazine is pretty simple: a curated collectionof content, branded under a clear editorial mission and vision, andpackaged to serve a clearly defined audience or community according to their needs and preferences.It’s a platform-neutral definition by design that puts the readerfirst, requires investment relative to its scale, and is a conceptpublishers need to come to terms with as quickly as possible.The magazine industry is at a critical juncture, and the decisionsbeing made now and over the next 12 months will determine who survivesas more than a hollowed-out shell to be sold to a competitor, if notshuttered outright. An old boss of mine known for her turnaround skillshad a philosophy about allocating resources that I’ve come to embrace:if it’s not performing, don’t be afraid to take it behind the shed andput it out of its misery, and dedicate those resources to somethingnew, or to make something already profitable even more so.I’d argue that it’s way past time to take the ad-supported businessmodel behind the shed, and to start focusing onincreasing the value, true and perceived, of the content we publish.More on that later this week … SEE ALSO: Part One “If what we have isn’t valuable and no one wants to pay for it, maybe we don’t have a business.”–Jim Malkin, CEO, SourceMedia, at the 2009 FOLIO: Growth SummitLet’s be honest for a second, put our egos aside, and admit onething: many magazines currently being publishedcould fold tomorrow, and few people beyond their respective mastheadswould notice.