The subscription scheme will work because many people already pay for similar services. Many professionals pay over $100 a year for each of several subscriptions to professional or academic organizations. For this money they get quarterly journals and mild discounts on publications that the organization carries (plus incidental benefits at conferences, and so on). Many professionals pay lawyers and financial advisors annual retainers for the ability to call on them whenever they wish.
Many people pay over $100 a month in phone bills, and phone companies charge $30 or more merely to remain connected. Similarly, millions of people pay $25 or more a month for the opportunity to watch movies that a cable company chooses, at times the cable company chooses. Of course they offer a huge stock. Publishers can provide better service by letting readers choose what they read and when, provide a more long-term benefit to society by benefitting education, science, and technology, charge each household less per year to do so, and still make money.
Further, there are now thousands of bulletin boards and dozens of online services, of which 10 are major companies: BIX, Dialog, Prodigy, CompuServe, Delphi, Reuters, Dow Jones News Retrieval, GEnie, SprintMail, and Data-Star. In 1990 online service sales reached nearly $9 billion, almost double 1986 sales.
BIX, the Byte Information Exchange, offers each month's Byte magazine and other services; its subscription rate is $39 a quarter, exclusive of phone connect charges. Dialog gives access to 390 databases, with over 270 million references to over 100,000 publications, including the complete texts of over 1,000 periodicals. Dialog charges anywhere from $45 to $150 for signup and connect charges. Prodigy (run by IBM and Sears) has almost 1 million subscribers, and charges a $50 signup cost and $13 per month. CompuServe has 3/4 million subscribers, and charges a $40 signup cost and $6 to $22.50 per hour for connections. Delphi has 100,000 subscribers, and charges $6 a month and $20 for 20 connect hours.
Finally, in August 1991 after only 2 1/2 years, Waldenbooks has 4.4 million U.S. readers in their Preferred Reader Program. Waldenbooks and B. Dalton Booksellers use their programs to keep track of book buying, title performance, and reader habits, and they use the names for their mail order programs. But more can be done by changing the one-time cost of the card to a yearly fee and offering larger discounts--in other words, making it a subscription program.