CHICAGO—During a session at this week’s CM Show, Jennifer Armor, audit manager at Verified Audit Circulation, argued that free magazines are the future of the business.

She riffed off a quote from Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson: “From the consumer’s perspective there is a huge difference between cheap and free. Give a product away and it can go viral. Charge a single cent for it and you’re already in an entirely different business.”

Armour thinks this idea can, and will, eventually extend to the magazine industry. (Broadcast radio and TV have been offering it since their inception, after all, and the music industry is moving in the same direction, she noted.)

Because of the increasing price of paper and postage, Armour said, the cost of acquiring and keeping paid circ is becoming too high compared to the revenue it generates, and therefore, consumer publications will eventually move to a controlled circ model. Only magazines with premium content that can’t be found elsewhere will be able charge their readers.

True, other types of media are free or becoming free, and it is becoming quite expensive to run a paid title. But the idea that consumer magazines will be corralled into a free model due to spiraling costs is unlikely.

Advertisers are still grappling with accepting that public-place copies of paid titles are valuable because the publishing industry’s audience measurement system isn’t as finite as TV or radio. To them, there’s no real way to measure how many eyes have viewed the copies. Circulators know differently, of course, but the debate rages on. And until that issue—and a few others—have been hashed out, Armour’s view of the future is out of reach.

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