While I was surfing the blogsphere recently I came across a post that pointed me to an LA-based magazine called GOOD. GOOD covers a whole range of topics from environment to art, business and even politics. It covers it from the angle of providing a platform for ideas, people and businesses that are driving change in the world.
There are many interesting and cool things about GOOD. But the one thing that jumped out at me right away was how it was donating 100% of the subscription fees it gets to worthwhile organizations. The way it works is that when a person subscribes to GOOD, he/she can pick from 1 of 12 incredibly worthy organizations, ranging from Ashoka that supports social entrepreneurs, to Room to Read that partners with local communities in third world countries to establish educational infrastructure.
So why is GOOD giving 100% of its subscription money to these organizations instead of using it for their operational costs or something of that nature? Well here is what they say:
“This whole thing is an experiment. If it works, we'll actually spend less than half of what it traditionally costs to acquire subscribers. The success of this campaign will allow us to:
a) meet a self-selecting group of quality subscribers who find us through word of mouth, internet links, media coverage, our partner organizations, or the other crazy schemes we like to come up with; b) raise significant money for organizations that will do something important with it; and c) save resources and prove that you can do well by doing good.”
Does this make business sense? Well I’m not from the print industry but from what I’ve read on the web, most magazines do not make their money from subscriptions or newsstand sales but through advertisements; and GOOD does the same thing. Also, since GOOD does not plan to send out millions of pieces of unsolicited mail to people to get new subscribers and instead chooses to rely on “crazy” schemes, I really believe that they might just pull it off. And if numbers are any indication they have so far signed up 13,543 people, or about 25% of their target for the year, so they are in pretty good shape. Which goes to show that this venture indeed does make business sense!
The next question that popped into my mind was whether such a thing would work in Asia, or more specifically in Malaysia. Especially since most Asians or at least Chinese are well known for being “Kiam Siap” (meaning “stingy” in the Hokkien dialect) and would always go for price and be willing to sacrifice a little quality. So I started doing a survey among my friends. The survey was based on 3 kinds of magazines: a) magazine with normal subscription policy b) magazine following in the footsteps of GOOD, and c) a totally free magazine. The only other variable in the survey was quality. I also got my friends to ask their friends which magazine they would subscribe to. The results of my totally “scientific” survey was surprising, at least to me. I say this because the most important factor turned out not to be the price or subscription policy, but the quality and whether or not the magazine appealed to their interests. Even more surprising was that 99% of people preferred to subscribe to a magazine that followed in the footsteps of GOOD rather than magazines with a regular subscription policy -- even if the quality of the former was a little lower.
So maybe the tide is changing in Asia and maybe quality is more important to Asians than businesses think and maybe good business can be made out of “good” innovation…