Rolling Stone cancels print editions for “lifetime” subscribers

the pages of Rolling Stonethe legendary music magazine started by Jann Wenner when he was a hippie student, has chronicled rock stars, biting political commentary and iconic photographs since its inception in the late 1960s. From an 11-year-old Michael Jackson to From 1971 to a now-legendary cover photo of a naked John Lennon wrapped around Yoko Ono, taken just hours before the star was shot to death, the magazine has been present at major cultural moments of the 20th century.

But the counterculture icon is now trying to adapt to a world radically different from the one in which it was founded, and in the process angers some longtime fans.

The magazine, written by Wenner and local journalist Ralph J. Gleason of the San Francisco Chronicle Starting out in disarray, it offered a good deal in the 2000s while trying to stay competitive with a growing Internet: a lifetime subscription to the print magazine for just $99. But that, too, just changed.

In early May, lifetime subscribers received a letter from David Roberson, the magazine’s senior vice president of subscriptions, saying: “We are transitioning Rolling Stone’s lifetime subscriber delivery to a digital format. Its final print copy will be the June 2024 edition.” While the magazine will continue to print physical editions of the magazine, current subscribers, including those who purchased the $99 lifetime deal, will now receive digital copies unless they explicitly choose a print subscription, which costs $60 per year.

The e-edition, the letter states, is “an exact replica of the magazine you can read on your computer, tablet or phone,” and subscribers will receive reminder emails each time a new issue is published. They will also be able to access a library of issues from the last five years.

Penske Media Corporation, owner Rolling Stone With VarietyDeadline.com and other brands did not respond to the Fortune request for comment on the options for lifetime subscribers, or whether the move means broader changes to its magazine’s distribution, but these are questions on the minds of many readers.

‘My mother saved them all’

On a Reddit forum, hundreds of users discussed the letter and the magazine’s move to digital, with many complaining about changes to the terms of the agreement. The offer of access to a digital catalog dating back just five years (when many subscribers still have physical editions from decades past) was adding insult to injury.

“Right now I can read a 25 year old back catalog,” one user wrote. “I’d like to continue doing that with physical copies of the magazine.”

Another user wrote: “My mother saved them all. I have all the copies from approximately 1990 to 1994.” Another said: “I would request a refund as they then want to change the terms of the sale. “Companies need to stop doing this.”

But while it infuriates subscribers, the move may not constitute a breach of contract. The magazine’s ownership changed in 2017, and without a clause requiring future owners to honor the previous terms that lifetime subscribers purchased, “the new owner will likely not be bound by the lifetime subscription agreement, for therefore, there is no breach,” Alexandra Roberts, a professor of media and law at Northeastern University School of Law, said Board.

“There is no reason to think that this was not a valid contract when it was signed,” he told the publication, but added that the magazine may be planning for what is known as an ‘efficient default,’ or a scenario in which it is more cheap to pay. damages from a breached contract rather than continuing to operate less profitably under its terms.

Of course, publishing a print magazine is much less profitable now than it was decades ago, thanks to declining advertising revenues and rising paper and mailing costs. But the shift from print to digital also highlights the increasingly fleeting nature of media consumption in the 21st century. Just as physical magazines and books have largely been replaced by digital copies, the rise of streaming services for music, movies and shows has supplanted the ownership of physical records or videos.

Spotify, the world’s largest music streaming service, has radically changed the way people access music since its inception in 2006, charting the path from more physically rooted modes of listening, such as radios and records, to a digital library of millions of tracks, podcasts, and audiobooks that can be listened to instantly with just a few taps of your finger.

Today, the platform has more than 615 million users, including 239 million paid subscribers, in more than 180 markets around the world, but those users are subject to the whims of Spotify’s catalog and their access to music varies depending on the artists of the platform. You may have dealings with, or not. And the model is much less profitable for artists who use the platform to stream their work: Spotify estimates that the average song generates between $0.006 and $0.008 per stream in royalties for artists.

Beyond price, the media industry faces persistent challenges. More than 17,436 media jobs were lost in 2023, marking the highest number of layoffs (excluding layoffs at the height of the pandemic) since 2009, according to data from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a global research firm. that tracks layoffs. At the end of January of this year there had already been 528 new layoffs in the media sector.

Apart from the general decline of the industry, Rolling Stone He has also made some costly mistakes. Perhaps the most notable mishap includes the publication of a now-debunked account of the alleged gang rape of a University of Virginia student, which paved the way for a costly defamation battle in 2014. That was one of the drivers of the sale of Wenner Media by Wenner, which covered Rolling Stone, Us weekly and men’s diaryto Penske Media Corporation in two tranches, in 2017 and in 2020.

In an interview with New York Times, Wenner said he wanted to find a buyer who understands the magazine’s “role in the history of our times, socially, politically and culturally.” That role apparently doesn’t include appeasing long-standing but probably unprofitable subscribers.

Lifetime subscribers will receive their final print edition this month, according to the letter sent by Rolling Stone, which did not include instructions on how to subscribe to the print version of the magazine. An annual subscription to a physical copy costs $60 per year and a subscription to the print and digital versions costs $120 per year, which is more than the one-time payment of $99 that lifetime subscribers paid.

Beyond the price, subscribers insist that physical copies have value and that they are now being scammed out of the deal.

“I got the lifetime subscription in 2004. I have all the issues in my basement,” wrote one Reddit user. Another said, “Physical issues have value and that’s what I paid for 25 years ago,” adding, “It makes you happy to know that other people are equally enraged.”

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