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Cheap Partnership Subs Efforts on the Rise

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As magazine circulations come under greater scrutiny from buyers demanding more accountability from publishers, one area that hasn’t received much attention is partnership deductible subscriptions. Perhaps it’s because they’re not well understood, or because they fall under the seemingly legitimate paid circ. But despite their low profile, partnership programs—whereby a sub is bundled with the purchase of other products or services—are on the rise, which is not necessarily a welcomed trend.

In June 2006, 181 titles participated in these programs, generating 3.3 million subs, or 1 percent of total paid and verified circulation. By December 2008, 210 titles used partnership programs, representing 9.2 million subs, or 2.5 percent of total circ, per the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Some titles get one-fourth or more of their subs this way.

The ABC has tightened up its partnership rules, eliminating the so-called nondeductible type that forced the consumer to buy the magazine with the product or service. But two recent ABC decisions paved the way for this category to grow. One expanded the allowed partners to charitable groups. Another let publishers sell up to three titles with a product or service, as long as each additional magazine comes with an additional purchase.

That hasn’t stopped dubious offers from popping up on the Web. At Vistaprint, which sells marketing and promo products to small businesses, shoppers are offered Parenting Early Years and Spin with purchases. Me Too Software, a seller of CD and DVD burning programs, includes a subscription for Maxim (and, oddly, its defunct sibling, Blender) with a purchase.

Maxim publisher Ben Madden said Me Too once generated a tiny number of subs but is no longer an authorized partner, with most of Maxim's partnership subs today coming from companies like online dating service eHarmony and gaming sites. Parenting and Spin reps said the Vistaprint program is a small test.

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