ESPN (NYSE: DIS) The Magazine becomes the latest print publication to try charging for its content online. The magazine announced on its website Friday that its online version, ESPNTheMag.com, was merging with the ESPN Insider service, which charges $39.95 a year for specialized sports content. "As of Friday June 5, ESPNTheMag.com ceased to exist as we know it, but the site's signature pieces and voice continue to live on the Insider page," the magazine alerts visitors. (Print subscribers can continue to access magazine articles via the Insider for free).
ESPN Publishing general manager Gary Hoenig tells Business Week that it is a move other publishers should make as well. "Why is it, in this business, we are apologetic when asking [consumers] to pay for what we give them online?" he asks. "It's not like people in the milk business who think 'we should give it away for freewe can make money on the cartons.'" But it's also not as much of a risk for ESPN as it might be for other publications. The magazine's website never seems to have brought in that much traffic. (Compete.com says it attracted about 40,000 unique visitors in April). And ESPN can also have it both ways since almost all of the content on its main site, ESPN.com, is accessible without an Insider subscription. The Insider service, which reportedly already had 350,000 paying subscribers, however, could potentially see a boost in membership.
Staci adds: ESPN Insider and ESPN the Mag have been related from the online service's start. A print subscription wasand still isincluded with every Insider subscription. It instantly created a tangible value for Insider subscribers, upped and adding the cost of the magazine in to the equation, made the online service more attractiveat least, to this initial Insider subscriber. Does this move marginalize the magazine? Only if ESPN can;t figure out how to promote the content outside of the subscription service and if there's one thing ESPN knows other than sports, it's promotion.
By Joseph Tartakoff