All the Ways We Have to Reach You (by Janet Hutchings)

Last week’s post on this site generated a conversation about the need for writers to subscribe to publications to which they submit work. This week I’d like to discuss the various ways in which not only writers but all readers can purchase subscriptions or individual copies of our magazines. There have been some changes lately pertaining to the marketing of our digital subscriptions, but before we get to that I thought you might find it interesting to take a little journey back in time and see how EQMM has adapted to previous changes in the magazine marketplace.

When EQMM was launched in 1941, the newsstand was king. There was no viable way to get going other than to put as many copies as possible out on the newsstands, hope you’d be seen, and then try to convert as many of the newsstand buyers as possible to subscribers by way of ads or inserts. It was a very uncertain business, as EQMM’s founding editor, Frederic Dannay, wrote at the time. He called the launching of EQMM “experimental” because he wasn’t just facing the usual problems of visibility and competition; he was putting an entirely new type of magazine out there. That is not to say that there were not other magazines that fell roughly into the same category: There were still many pulp genre-fiction magazines on the market, including the famous Black Mask, so there would have been a readymade section for EQMM on the newsstands. What was different was that EQMM was digest-sized, printed on better paper than the pulps, and instead of being devoted to one type of mystery or crime story, it had very broad parameters for content.

Dannay’s experiment was, of course, a success: The first issue sold over 90,000 copies—which would, today, be an absolutely astounding feat for a genre-fiction magazine. Nevertheless, competition on the newsstand was fierce. You had to stand out in some way to get the attention of new readers and as the first point of contact with buyers was the cover image, a lot of attention had to be paid to art. In EQMM’s first years, the famous book designer George Salter served not only as art director but cover artist for many of the covers. Eventually, in order to remain competitive on the newsstands, EQMM had to resort to more lurid and sexually explicit covers than was typical of the Salter issues. By that time, though, the magazine had already converted a number of its newsstand readers to subscribers, and Dannay didn’t feel comfortable sending copies with nudity and sexual violence depicted on the cover into households where kids might pick them up. Thus began in interval in which only newsstand buyers could obtain issues with cover art. Subscribers got plain-type covers.

By the mid 1950s a new multimagazine subscription business had come into existence: Publishers Clearing House. They offered customers the chance to choose from a selection of magazines from different publishers with the sale going through PCH—which, of course, took a cut of the profits. Their business model was a new concept in magazine marketing. In the mid 1960s, PCH added to their mailings the chance to enter sweepstakes at the same time a customer placed a subscription order. This was a very successful move for both PCH and the magazines it represented, including EQMM. By the mid 1970s, other similar multimagazine subscription businesses were coming into existence, and this way of acquiring paid circulation became the primary means for EQMM and many other publications—superseding newsstand sales.

And then it all changed—pretty suddenly! Because there was a hitch to those sweepstakes offers. Although many people believed it was only possible to enter the sweepstakes if you subscribed to one of the magazines offered, it was stated on the promotion (if you looked) that you could enter without buying a thing, and government regulations stipulated as much. In the 1990s, a lawsuit was brought against PCH alleging that entries that came in without purchases were being discarded. A series of further lawsuits brought against PCH and other companies in the multimagazine subscription business led to greater government oversight and eventually to most of the companies discarding the sweepstakes model. Their profits fell, which in turn resulted in their needing to take a larger cut of the profits made on each subscription.  Eventually, the proportion of the profits going to PCH and other such companies made it unprofitable for magazines like EQMM, which make their money on sales of the magazine rather than advertising dollars, to continue to acquire new subscribers through them.  That primary source of new business, for us, dried up.

The next decade was a difficult one for nearly all subscription-based magazines. I may have the figure slightly wrong after all this time, but I recall reading that the majority of American magazines lost at least ten percent of their subscription base during that period, and the more a publication had depended on sources such as PCH, the bigger the drop was.

That we were able to survive during those years is a testament to the commitment of our longtime subscribers. We started with a large subscriber base and managed to retain an adequate percentage of it. If you are one of those subscribers who were with us through the 1990s and early 2000s, thank you!

And then, miracle of miracles, in 2008 the e-reader came along! Our magazines were perfect for those early devices, since we print in black and white and have few visuals. Our marketing department was right on top of this revolution in publishing, and as a result our magazines became among the first to be offered on e-readers. Eventually, advances in technology took away our advantage, as it became possible to display full color, glossy magazines on most devices, and they flooded the digital marketplace. Fortunately, by that time we had already built up a significant digital-subscription business.

But now we come to a new turn in the road. After fifteen years, Amazon is discontinuing its digital subscription program. In September of 2023, the Amazon digital newsstand will close. In its place, Amazon is now offering Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and all of the other Dell fiction magazines, on its Kindle Unlimited service. Kindle Unlimited is a convenient, economical option, particularly for those who read multiple magazines and books on Kindle. The difference is that each time a new issue comes out, you’ll need to go to where the magazine is displayed and click on the “Read for Free” button. It won’t be delivered automatically.

If you prefer a digital subscription, the good news is that in the near future those will be available through our website. Available formats will include ePub and PDF, both of which are readable on Kindle, Nook, tablets, and other Apple and Android devices. The reader experience will be similar to the previous Kindle experience. We’re excited by the possibilities opened up by bringing digital subscriptions into our own sphere of business, but we ask you to be patient as we make this major transition. We’ll let you know, both on this site and on our social media, when this option goes live.

And, of course, you can always subscribe to the print magazine! Print subscribers continue to account for the largest part of our readership. Print subscriptions to EQMM can be purchased from us directly here. For our other magazines, please visit the individual websites.

If you’re someone who prefers to purchase the odd single copy of the magazines, you’ll likely not find them at your local big-box stores. They are, however, available in the magazine section of most Barnes & Noble stores—which makes sense, since our magazines are more akin to books than to the types of magazines found at giant retailers such as Walmart. You can also buy single digital issues on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other e-tailers. I hope this has given everyone a picture of where and how issues of the Dell fiction magazines can be obtained. What started me on this topic was last week’s discussion of the need to convert writers to readers, so I’ll close by adding that if you are a writer, you can sometimes obtain a discount on your subscriptions to magazines to which you contribute. The Dell mystery magazines occasionally offer such a discount, so keep your eyes peeled for one.—Janet Hutchings

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8 Responses to All the Ways We Have to Reach You (by Janet Hutchings)

  1. Jerry House says:

    There was a time, years ago, when I subscribed to most of the fiction magagines, including EQMM, AHMM, Asimov’s, and Analog. Realize that this was some time ago and things may have changed, but subscriptions did not work out for me. Whether due to the magazine subscription service or my local post office, about a quarter to a third of the issues never made it to my home. Many of those which did reach me arrived badly torn. I also could not depend on regular delivery — a monthly issue could show up early in the month, or weeks later. By the time I realized that I was missing an issue, a call to the magazine’s offices was no help; too often I was told that all “unsold” had been shredded and was unavailable for me (I was, however, offered a future issue to be added to my subscription). The reason I had subscribed was that I wanted EACH issue. Newsstands did not carry the magazines and large booksellers such as Barnes & Noble were too far for me to travel regularly. I am not comfortable with electronic issues (I need to hold a real paper copy in my hands). Local libraries did not subscribe. Finally, I just gave up and stopped renewing my subscriptions. If I see a copy available at B&N now, I ignore it — an occasional copy just does not have the same feeling that a regular, reliable subscription did. One bright side, perhaps — at least your publisher did not just take my money and not send me their magazines, as some others did.

    I know that fiction magazines are dying and that is a shame. But, based on my experiences, I cannot be totally sorrowful.

  2. Twist Phelan says:

    “If you prefer a digital subscription, the good news is that in the near future those will be available through our website.”
    Hooray! Very happy to buy from EQMM and AHMM directly.

  3. Twist Phelan says:

    “If you prefer a digital subscription, the good news is that in the near future those will be available through our website.”

    Hooray! Very happy to buy from EQMM and AHMM directly.

  4. Janet says:

    Thanks, Twist, and Jerry, I wish you’d give us another try. We have an excellent fulfillment department now. Much better, I think, than years ago, when we were part of a giant corporation.

  5. tfmoran2014 says:

    As a subscriber since the 1950s, I have been considering switching to digital on my next renewal. Then I read Amazon’s announcement–so I am thrilled to learn that digital will be available through the website by the time I need to renew. Have a great weekend.

  6. A couple of months ago, I received a misprint. I contacted Sandy Marlowe and received a replacement copy. Even though it took a while, I was very pleased with how this was conducted.

    I welcome the changes, especially if it’s going to be possible to purchase a single e-copy of AHMM. I’m not subscribed to that magazine, but I would like to check out an issue occasionally. I don’t have a credit card, so that makes it harder for me to make purchases in the US since I’m from the other side of the pond (the Netherlands). And if it’s possible to buy digitalized issues of the past, that would be nice too.

  7. Janet says:

    Hi, Terrie and Anne. I’m hoping the changes will prove helpful to you. Dealing with us directly rather than through an e-tailer may be easier. I was surprised by the earlier comment about print issues often not arriving and not getting replaced when they failed to arrive. I think that must have happened very many years ago, because although we sometimes have problems even these days due to factors outside our control, the company is very good about replacing any missed or damaged issues, as you said, Anne. And we usually have extra copies of issues in the warehouse for quite a long time after they mail to subscribers. Hope you’ll have a good weekend too!

  8. That was a quite a history lesson on the business end of EQMM! Thanks, Janet. I’ve been a subscriber for decades and never experienced a problem other than the occasional torn cover–the Postal Service is my prime suspect.

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