Conde Nast Will Charge More for Print and Online Content

When I saw yesterday that Conde Nast plans to increase the rates it charges readers of its magazines and websites because, according to CEO Charles Townsend,

“We have been so overtly dependent on advertising as the turbine that runs this place, and that is a very, very risky model as we emerge from the recession,”

my first thought was: Oh come on. There have been plenty of recessions and one Great Depression since Conde Nast began a publishing empire built around ad-supported magazines, starting with Vogue and Vanity Fair (which in 1915 ran more ad pages than any other US magazine). I thought here’s another traditional publisher that’s preparing its audience for a post-Internet iPad paradise where readers will pay for their digital content.

My second thought was: Maybe, but so what. Conde Nast should have raised subscription and newsstand rates ages ago. When Henry Luce launched Fortune Magazine in 1930, he charged $1 per issue at a time when the Sunday New York Times cost $0.05. The whole point (according to Alan Brinkley’s telling in his Luce biography The Publisher) was to weed out the riff-raff who couldn’t or wouldn’t pay such an insanely high price for a copy of magazine, and then to make a mint selling advertising against such an upscale audience.

Fortune Magazine Cover February 1930

Whether or not the content-is-free culture of the Internet gives way to an I’ll-pay-for-the-premium-stuff future, Conde Nast should raise rates for their magazines. Vogue, Vanity Fair, Glamour and GQ readers aren’t highly price sensitive. And besides, the advertising pitch gets better when your readership is limited only to those with lots of disposable income.

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