Part of our deal with publishers is that they get most (sometimes it seems like ‘nearly all’) the revenue from the subscriptions we collect. They also get the subscribers lists (email addresses , country of residence and subscription dates) this being pretty much all the individual identifying data that we collect. They also have the responsibility for setting the price of the annual subscriptions that we sell on their behalf.
It quite often happens that a publisher will ask us for advice on the price that should be set.
Our answer will often touch on these points:
- An annual sub to a digital edition service should be at least 10% cheaper than the print subscription. This is what the market expects.
- In some cases the digital subscription can be as much as 50% off the print sub.
- We discourage the publisher from making the price too low, since if the price is very low our fixed percentage commission gets to be too low to be interesting for us. Also, there is no point in charging very little for a digital sub, because it is significantly easier and cheaper to give a subscription away than to charge for it. Rather than extract $2 or £1 for an annual sub to 50 weekly issues, we would recommend giving the content away through Open Access.
- We also advise our publishers that it is not possible or sensible to try to price differentially for markets in different global regions. The price set is being quoted in £UK but one should also think how this price is going to be perceived in eg the $US. At present many British (or European) prices are going to seem very expensive to international markets.
Why should digital editions be cheaper than print subscriptions? Since it is at least arguable that digital editions are better than the print parents, that is a good question. And hard to answer. But one reason for charging less is that the digital subscriptions are limited to one user and to one year of access. A print subscription by comparison is often passed around among several readers (this can not be done with the digital subs), and the subscriber will retain the physical issues of the magazine after the subscription is ended. With the Exact Editions system the reader has no retained back issues when the subscription period finishes.
Anyway, the short answer is that digital editions ought to be cheaper than their print equivalents. Subscribers expect them to be so. But by how much the price should be reduced? That is a matter for complex judgement. Its more a matter of art than science.
Pricing a service appropriately is a difficult issue.