Sensationalism Strikes Smart Money Magazine

It must be tough running a financial magazine these days.  Your readers question your credibility because they know you completely blew the meltdown of the U.S. economy – offered not a hint about a world about to go to hell in a hand basket; your readers don’t need you as much as they used to because what’s the point of reading about how to invest your money when you’re still afraid to invest any of your money; and of course, there are all those free places online to read pretty much the same stuff, including the magazines’ own web sites.

The Curmudgeon suspects that Smart Money magazine is experiencing these blues.  He generally likes Smart Money and has been a subscriber for at least ten years, maybe as many as fifteen.  The magazine’s thinner than it used to be; there’s not much point in those big mutual fund companies advertising for new customers when people are still stuffing their money in their mattresses.  The editor-in-chief launches each edition with a column better suited to follow the words “dear diary” than a national magazine.  Smart Money has been redesigned, but really, other than the people who work there, who really cares about such things?  It’s replaced a bunch of faceless columnists who didn’t see the meltdown coming with a new batch of faceless columnists who seem even more clueless than their predecessors.  Some of the magazine’s regular features are growing long in the tooth, too:  “ten things,” which used to be a really smart monthly article that gave readers fresh insight into how some aspect of their financial lives is managed by the businesses they patronize – “ten things your health insurer won’t tell you,” “ten things your banker won’t tell you,” “ten things your travel agent won’t tell you” – long ago ran out of interesting and worthwhile subjects.  The March 2012 issue features “ten things baristas won’t tell you” (“4:  not all beans pack the same punch”).  Wow:  talk about punchless.

It’s no wonder that when Smart Money sent The Curmudgeon a renewal notice and asked for $23.95 for a year’s subscription and he scribbled on the subscription card that he now felt the magazine was only worth $12 a year, they quickly sent him an invoice for $12 for a year’s worth of magazines.

Possibly worried about their future, the magazine’s brain trust resorted to an old but tried and true tactic:  when all else fails, try to instill fear in your readers.

How?  A cover emblazoned with “The High Cost of Living:  Making it to 100 With Money to Spare…” and a cover story titled “Outliving Expectations.”

The article’s thesis:  With people living longer than ever, it may be time for us to reconfigure our retirement savings with the assumption that we may live to 100.

The Curmudgeon would not make up such stuff.

Great timing, Smart Money.  People are scared, the declining economy has shot the hell out of our retirement savings, and now you put out some nonsense about how we may all be screwing up by not saving enough money to last until we’re 100 years old.

Well, if it helps you sell more magazines, that’s really all that matters to you folks, right?


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  • Scott  On March 22, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    I’m going to try your “half price renewal” tactic on my next “on the fence” magazine subscription opportunity. Nice tip!

    • foureyedcurmudgeon  On March 22, 2012 at 12:54 pm

      It’s not the first time I’ve done it and it’s never failed me yet. I wouldn’t try it with a small magazine like Mother Jones or Washington Monthly that relies on subscriptions to keep its head above water, but a mass market magazine like Smart Money or Kiplinger’s, because it makes its money more from advertisers than from subscribers, needs subscribers. They need you more than you need them – and I think this willingness to discount their price proves it. Good luck!

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