A few weeks ago, I parted with £75 (or about Cdn $120, I think) for a subscription to Monocle, the British-based magazine that comes out about 10 times a year. It costs about as much to buy it here in St. John's, but I figure this way I'll get in closer to when it comes out. It's an unusual magazine, that covers industries as diverse as retail fashion and defence contracting, and while parts of it leave me cold, I find myself reading it deeply for an hour or so at a time.
Usually, the attraction of getting a subscription is that you can get a bargoon, often a small fraction of newsstand price.
Monocle doesn't go down that route, and in fact seems to boast that it charges you what it costs to make it. (The magazine is a favourite with a lot of designers because it uses multiple paper stocks, and put a lot of emphasis on its stylish presentation ... not to mention a dead-serious attention to the design industry itself in its reporting.)
This is all well and good, but there's been a brutal worldwide recession, and Monocle - which depends on advertising from the luxury brands it often covers - would seem to be in trouble, like practically every other magazine.
But that doesn't appear to be the case.
Here's a bit from a recent piece in Bloomberg's BusinessWeek about the magazine and its Canadian-born founder and editor-in-chief, TylerBrûlé, he of the extra accents (his father didn't use either of the accents in Brule).
The latest edition of Monocle is a fat book of a magazine that challenges just about every piece of received wisdom about what works in media these days, starting with the notion that this is no time to start a new print publication. Now three years old, Monocle boasts a global circulation nearing 150,000, a 35 percent annual increase at a time when magazine sales are supposed to be going in the other direction, and a rising subscription base of 16,000. If that sounds small, consider that these individuals pay $150 for 10 issues, a 50 percent premium over the newsstand price.
Monocle has launched an interesting spinoff this summer: a newspaper, another product known for its declining and thinning ranks worldwide. There's only one edition, and it's being marketed at the Mediterranean summer crowd, or, as likely, those who wish they were among that number. I haven't seen or felt, the issue, and I use the word "felt" because Monocle decided to use a type of paper stock that is far more pliable and longlasting than conventional newsprint. It's also, by necessity, more expensive.
There you have it: the newspaper as luxury good. I happen to think there's some logic in that concept, incidentally, for all newspapers, even though I would propose a different tact that what Monocle is doing this summer. Rather than trying, often in vain, to herd in would-be readers that will never buy the product, or produce giveaway products that simply go straight to recycling (if that), publishers should consider tailoring their product to the audience that will stick with the published word and will pay what's required for it.
Anyway, I'll be going back to my latest Monocle later today, to pick up where I left off on a thought-provoking piece on making cities more human-sized and inviting. I don't like everything in and about Monocle, and I stick by a column I wrote last fall on Brûlé's foolish thinking on social media, but for what I'm paying for it - and for book-quality pieces on such a wide range of issues - it's a good deal indeed.