Breaking down the Math: the price of PLY

Do you know how much I knew about making a magazine before I actually started making a magazine? Almost exactly zero. And I believe in the truth.  I mean, I believe in telling the truth, in being as transparent as possible, even when it comes to business and money so I’m going to talk to you about why PLY is the price that it is, a price that is higher than many other magazines, especially magazines in our own genre.

PLY is $36 for a year’s US subscription.  We don’t give discounts and we don’t go on sale. I recently got a “please come back to us for only $12” email from another craft magazine and it worked, I came back to them!  However, PLY will never do that. We just can’t afford it.

Here’s why.

Most magazines don’t actually rely on the revenue from subscriptions. Surprising, right? I had no idea of that little fact. I figured that’s what supported a magazine, but it’s not. It’s why they can sell subscriptions for so cheap, $12 a year and buy one get one free and all that. The serious revenue for magazines comes from advertisements. Did you know that most magazines (and everyone that I subscribe to except Taproot, which has no ads) has between 55% and 75% advertising? That means that if I take one of the several craft magazines on my coffee table right now and thumb through all the pages counting up the space taken by ads and adding it together, there is 62 pages of ads and 38 pages of actual non-ad content. Really, I just checked.

Since each ad page in our type of magazines (because while fashion magazines have the same ratios, they charge far more for advertising) brings in anywhere between $1200 and $3000, average advertising revenue per issue is $75,000 – $190,000. It’s the advertising that pays a magazine’s way in this world and it’s that advertising that keeps subscriber prices so low. Subscriptions are what the magazine needs to get the advertisers. If a magazine can show a potential advertiser that they have a boatload of subscribers, the advertiser is far more likely to happily hand over the green that keeps the lights on.

So you see, it’s in the best interest of the magazine to get as many subscribers as they can, any way they can, even if it’s for $12 a year. It’s not for the direct revenue; it’s for indirect revenue. It’s for showing the advertisers how many eyeballs will be looking at the ads.

That’s how magazines work.

It is, however, not how PLY works.

We have between 12%-15% advertising in each issue of PLY. Never more. We think it’s better for our readers and better for the advertisers we do have. Plus, there’s just too much content to include in every issue, I can barely fit it all in! Also, our smaller ads (quarter and 1/12 page ads) are priced relatively low so that small, independent companies can afford to advertise. Each issue of PLY clears just under $14,000 in advertising revenue. That’s the number (it’s also the number, by the way, that we pay out each issue to contributors/writers/designers).  So our fantastic advertisers pay for our fantastic contributors.  It’s a wash.

Let me jump in here and say that I’m not discounting our advertisers. I adore them. Love them. Am completely grateful to them. I think they make the magazine better and I’m thankful that they choose to work with us. But I’m happy that we keep the ad to content ratio right where it is.

So you see, since we keep our advertising so low, we need our subscribers in a different way than most magazines need their subscribers. The subscription money is what pays the bills around here, directly. That’s not the regular magazine model but its what we’re doing. Before our first issue, everybody I know in the industry said that it couldn’t work, that people were used to very cheap subscription prices and wouldn’t pay the higher price. They all said we’d have to incorporate far more advertising.

However, so far it is working.

But the lack of advertising revenue coming in is just part of the equation in what makes our subscription price higher. The other part is the money going out.

Fiber is beautiful. We want to capture that beauty. The smooth silk, the crimp in a lock, the result of a slight difference in draft, our pages come alive with these things. However, if our pages are thin and transparent, it won’t matter how great the photography is because images and text will bleed through and muddy everything.

So PLY has good, thick, archival paper, both the cover and the inside pages. It raises the price from 0.30 – 0.45 an issue to $3.00-$4.00 an issue but it’s worth it. Not only does it mean the magazine is going to look and feel wonderful but it’s also going to (mostly) be able to stand up to the postal service (and that’s saying something, right?) and it’s going to last for the readers.

But because our paper is thick, our magazine is heavy. I just weighed 3 other craft magazines on my kitchen scale and they all fall between 6 ounces and 8 ounces. PLY weighs 14 ounces. What this means is that instead of costing 0.30 – 0.45 to mail inside the US via periodical postage, it’s over a dollar. And if I want to mail it from home (where I can’t use our periodical postage status) because a subscriber issue got lost, damaged, or the subscriber without telling me, it’s a whopping $6.00 to ship! So thick paper is great and we wouldn’t have it any other way, but I does have some drawbacks.

There are other bills too, of course: a $2 ,000 monthly IRS bill, monthly subscription management and ad-management fees, studio rental space, and little things here and there. Oh yeah, the 4 people that work for PLY, 2 of which (kitten and me) call it a full-time job.

All of this, in fact, everything except the contributors (which is what the advertiser revenue covers) is paid for by our subscription revenue and every dollar of each subscription goes somewhere it’s needed! I’ve tried to figure out how to make it cheaper but the math just doesn’t work. It’s why we can’t offer discounts or sales. It’s why it’s $36.

Low advertising, quality paper, great and in-depth writing, beautiful photography.

That’s why PLY costs more.





18 replies
  1. Eileen
    Eileen says:

    Thank you for all the work you put into Ply, and for the great quality product it is. It is well worth the price and I would happily give up subscriptions to other magazines to keep getting Ply.

    • Janet
      Janet says:

      Thank you to all the team at Ply I watch eagerly for my post down here in New Zealand and really think this magazine ( book) is real value for money, so inspirational and educational with the most fantastic photography that clearly shows the process and look. Thank you, thank you……..

  2. Patricia
    Patricia says:

    Thank you for everything that you put into Ply. I’m typically not a magazine reader, I work a full time job, I am in grad school, I have multiple hobbies, friends, and family, and enjoy to read books. What I am trying to say is that most magazines don’t catch my interest enough for me to want to try and squeeze fitting them into my busy schedule. I only get two magazines TAC and yours. I’m looking at getting Taproot. Yours is by far my favorite.though, and the one that I look forward to getting. I have learned so much from your magazines and I appreciate the quality. You make it worth every penny that I put towards the magazine. I appreciate your explanation, but to be honest I am so impressed by the quality and the amount I have learned from your magazine I really didn’t even care about the price.

  3. Katie
    Katie says:

    I loathe the race to the bottom that sales and discounting produces.
    I’m like you, I won’t do it, I can’t afford to. I also don’t think it’s healthy for a business. It devalues your product in the long term. It also looses regular custom, if people know that you’ll run a sale then they’ll hold off purchasing until the sale is on, why wouldn’t they, none of us like to spend more than we have to.
    In a business that’s all about relationships it shows a fundamental lack of respect for long term, long standing customers who have paid full price for something, only to offer it at a reduced rate to new customers in the year.

  4. Diane
    Diane says:

    I can’t imagine anyone complaining about the price once they get the magazine. It’s like 4 books a year, not 4 magazines for the price of 2 medium braids of fiber or one really good braid. It’s not too much, it’s a bargain for what you get. Thanks for doing it and I hope you’re getting paid.

  5. Dorothea
    Dorothea says:

    So here is what I have noticed about fiber people: the majority of them “get it.” I am sure that groups of hobbyists who collect stamps, or follow roller derby, or paint on velvet also have a percentage of people who “get it,” but our percentage – the number of fiber people who value VALUE, who care about QUALITY, who dream of CONTENT – our percentage is higher. And you can take that to the bank. (Even though I know it will go out again almost immediately to pay for the paper and the postage and the printing and all that.) I am sure that you have any number of things you could legitimately spend energy worrying about, please don’t let the price of the best magazine I know be one of those things. I get it. WE GET IT! Rock on.

  6. Becca R
    Becca R says:

    I have noticed the heavy ad content in most magazine because of my father. He has many hobbies, especially woodworking and cooking. He goes through his subscriptions once or twice a year and uses an exacto knife to cut out any pages that don’t have content on them. Those get recycled and he is left with a much lighter magazine to store. I do something similar with my cooking magazines. I just cut out recipes etc that I like and store them in a binder. It’s easier to find the recipes later and takes up a lot less room.

    So I noticed right away that PLY was different. It costs me a little more because I live overseas but I am happy to pay. The difference in quality is huge and I feel like I am getting so much for my subscription. I refer back to issues often. PLY has become one of my first ports of call with a question (which is another reason I love the themes to each issue, it makes it easier to go back to find info). The issues sit proudly on my bookshelf next to my other reference books. I hope you are deeply proud of what you have all produced. Keep it coming! There is an audience out here hungry for expertise, content and beauty and we know when we have found it.

  7. Kara
    Kara says:

    Call me crazy, but I thought 36$ per year was low!! Especially when the first issue landed in my mail box, and the paper was thick, images were crystal clear and there was more content than advertising. Keep doing a great job, Jacey and crew!
    <3 my PLY magazine!

  8. Eileen
    Eileen says:

    I love the ply magazine. I subscribe. I want a back issue when it gets reprinted. I even bought the instructional DVD. You do a great job. I will continue to read it. Eileen

  9. Denise
    Denise says:

    What everyone above said plus more. Kudos to you all for keeping Ply an outstanding publication/journal. I really hesitate to call it a magazine, because it’s something that I keep and use again and again for reference. I DON’T do that with a “magazine.” They’re disposable. One read and done. Out to recyclying before it clutters up my living room.

    I have been a long-time suscriber to anonther relatively high-brow general interest publication. The amount of advertising has been continually creeping upward in recent years, and the overall quality of the articles has been diminishing. They’ve also started the really annoying practice of beginning an article on one page, continuing it for several pages and then concluding it somewhere near the back of the volume. I’ve noticed that you don’t do this. Please don’t start. It’s a small detail, but another mark of quality.

    Thanks for all your hard work,
    D Bricher

  10. Trina
    Trina says:

    As I magazine editor, myself… I completely understand where you’re coming from! One thing I’ll add to your conversation is that in PLY, as opposed to magazines that might target a broader audience, I actually partly subscribe FOR the advertising. It’s one way I’m able to see what products in this field are out there; it’s great to see advertisers that I’m already aware of promoting new products, and inevitably I’ll always come across new advertisers I’ve never heard of before. So for me, PLY content is big picture – articles, great photos, and advertisers.

    Thanks for all your work on this lovely magazine. This is not something you undertake lightly… you have to have a long-term strategy for success!!

  11. Karrie
    Karrie says:

    Ply is worth every penny even my hubby is impressed with the mag and he has no interest in spinning. ( he has even read a few articles). The lack of adverts actually draws more attention to them. I’m not bombarded with them so I actually look at them to see what ” gems” I don’t know about. Great work.

  12. Cathy Gillis
    Cathy Gillis says:

    Jacey, I am so proud of your success with PLY. It’s a beautiful, quality publication based on collaboration with the fiber community – including readers, businesses, and contributors. I remember when you were just starting this magazine…that spark in your eye told me it’d be successful! Your post makes me want to buy 2 subscriptions a year.

  13. Rachael
    Rachael says:

    I for one am happy to pay a higher price than for other magazines, because I do feel I am getting higher quality. The content is something I never just skim, and because you have fewer advertisers, I actually visit their websites, rather than flipping past.

  14. Caroline
    Caroline says:

    I kind of figured that the substantial feel of the item in my hand, and the lack of pages and PAGES of ads, were the reason for the price…it also costs more to mail something that heavy. Like a lot of people I have to watch my expenditures, but writing the check for PLY really feels like buying four books, not four little magazines. Thanks for sharing all that information with everyone.

  15. cookgoalie
    cookgoalie says:

    What they said!!
    I have never ever in my life read a ‘magazine’ from cover to cover. Until Ply.
    The usual level of advertising is an environmental disaster. It is nothing but white noise, skim, flick, flick, finish. Because of the reduced content and the relevance of the advertisers I have actually being paying attention.
    You produce a fabulous product. I am prepared to pay for that.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *