“Paste” Throws A Hail Mary Pass

noah | May 13, 2009 2:30 pm

Rumblings about Paste being in financial dire straits started over the weekend, and the news that the magazine will soon launch an appeal for readers to donate money to its cause–in exchange for downloads from the mag’s marquee artists, and, of course, the continued survival of the publication–would seem to confirm suspicions that the economic crunch–not to mention the music industry’s hard times–has adversely affected yet another music-related media outlet. What struck me first upon hearing this news was how foolish the mag’s idea to get press by mimicking Radiohead’s constantly misunderstood “name your own price” strategy, and allowing potential subscribers to call the shots as far as what they’d pay for a year of the magazine, now seems–maybe even because of the amount of press that idea received. Take this line from a draft of a note to subscribers acquired by BlackBook: “Industry experts estimate that an average subscription for a monthly publication would cost $60-$80 per year without advertising support.” The mag obviously isn’t completely bereft of advertisers, but still: How many people do you think paid that much for their Paste subscription when they were allowed to call the shots? How much money is Paste therefore losing from people flooding in to buy a cheap subscription? And how many of the people who paid single-digit prices for their subscriptions way back when will pony up the difference in what their subscriptions actually cost the magazine now? Sure, hindsight is 20/20, but the bottom was falling out of the ad market last month, when the mag resurrected the promotion in honor of Record Store Day. Not to be churlish, but I think I should once again note that the key to the “Radiohead model” working was the fact that consumers were getting an inferior version of the product for the variable price they paid–and would in theory have to pay market rate for the full-caliber product. Perhaps offering PDFs of the magazine for a pay-what-you-will rate would have been a better plan, and sidestepped the printing and postage costs that go with publishing a magazine? It’s a hard question, to be sure, but one that needs to be asked and answered honestly as we all muddle through and try to figure out just how publications of any sort can stay afloat in these rough, advertiser-depleted times. Anyway, I do hope Paste survives; while the musicians it profiled weren’t always my cup of tea, it has a smart staff and a lot of passionate people writing for it, and losing a mass-distributed voice for music discussion and discovery is always a scary thing. Save Paste Magazine [Drive A Faster Car] Novel Solutions For Desperate Times: Paste Pledge Drive [BlackBook]