Updated: Kindle’s Free Sci-Fi Mag Hits #1, But Policy Confuses Shoppers


Amazon’s attempt to reach out to science fiction fans is working: Less than 24 hours after it was released, the free digest edition of Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine is Kindle’s top free bestseller. But a lot of readers are confused about what exactly Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) is offering here. Update: Amazon gave us a comment in response to customer confusion.

The free digest edition of Fantasy & Science Fiction includes this notice on its product page: “It’s risk free–all Kindle Magazine subscriptions start with a 14-day free trial. You can cancel at any time during the free trial period. If you enjoy your subscription, do nothing and it will automatically continue at the regular monthly price.” That is the standard message included on all Kindle Magazine pages, but many users were confused when they saw the message on the page of a product that is already free–and assumed that Amazon will begin charging for the digest edition after 14 days.

That confusion resulted in a host of 1- and 2-star reviews. “Only sign up for this if you want a $12.00 subscription to this magazine. Not a bad deal since there are some good stories but just be aware it’s not ‘A free subscription’ past the first 14 days. I rated it only two stars because of the type of marketing employed. Not the content of the magazine,” wrote one reviewer. In another 1-star review titled “Care to clear this up Amazon?” a reviewer wrote, “Is this a free magazine or is it free for 14 days and then a ‘paid’ subscription after the 14 day ‘free’ trial?”

Other reviewers quickly moved to clear up the confusion, since Amazon wasn’t responding. One reviewer’s (correct) explanation:

Lessons for Amazon here: Offering a free digest edition of a magazine is a savvy marketing move–but the company has to be clear about what it’s offering, and make it obvious that the product is free every month, not just for the first 14 days. Reviewers shouldn’t have to provide explanations on behalf of Amazon. And it’s in Amazon’s best interest to respond quickly anyway, since reviewers are posting 1-star reviews based on the marketing message and the confusion surrounding whether the magazine is really free, not based on content. I’ve asked Amazon for a comment (and to update the product page) and will update this post if I hear back. Update: Comment from an Amazon spokeswoman:

All Kindle magazine and blog subscriptions come with a free 14-day trial–regardless of the price of the subscription (Example: Amazon Daily)–so a customer can cancel receiving a free (or paid) subscription after trying it out for 2 weeks. The $0.00 price on the detail page indicates this subscription is free. Customers will receive a confirmation email after ordering that confirms that this is a free subscription and not just a free trial. To minimize customer confusion for this free offering, we’ve also updated our Facebook page with this message: Sorry for the confusion. All of our Kindle magazine subscriptions come with a free 14-day trial, but this exclusive digest edition of Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine is always free for Kindle customers. Additional details about this offer are available in the press release we just published: http://bit.ly/qiJ79e.

A couple thoughts here: It’s not surprising that customers are skeptical of entering a credit card number for something that is always free, and I’m not sure that people normally look to the Amazon Kindle Facebook page for public comment. (Do they? Maybe–I’m amazed, but probably shouldn’t be, by how many discussion there are going on that page.)

But this is just a wrinkle in what is overall a smart idea. I’ll be watching to see if the paid, expanded edition of Fantasy & Science Fiction ($12 per year) crosses over to the paid Kindle bestseller list. That would be a sign that a freemium model for magazine subscriptions can really work.

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