The Economist unbundles digital from print subscriptions

For a 170-year-old magazine, The Economist has been surprisingly nimble in navigating the digital age. That’s why it’s worth noting the venerable UK publication’s latest business move — charging a premium to new print subscribers who want digital access to the magazine.

“We’ve got three choices now. There’s a print-only, a digital-only and then a bundle,” Michael Brunt, VP of circulation, told AdAge, explaining that “people think it’s reasonable to pay a little more for both.” The mark-up means that new print subscribers will pay the existing $127, but will have to pay $160 if they want digital access too.

Brunt said one quarter of new subscribers are choosing print or digital only, while half are choosing to buy the bundle.

With this three-tier pricing, The Economist appears to have hit on a shrewd strategy to reinforce the value of its digital content, which includes everything from apps to audio readings, without alienating potential customers. The move also comes at a time when major newspapers are trying more sophisticated pricing tactics.

The New York Times (s NYT), for instance, is using pricing quirks like a $35/month fee for all-digital access (including tablets) but charging only $15/month for those who want the NYT on the web and smartphone. Meanwhile, the paper is charging only $31/month for Friday-Sunday home delivery (with full digital access) in some areas. The strategy here appears to be aimed at wringing maximum dollars out of print paper ads while training people to value — and pay for — online content.

Update: My colleagues, Laura Owen and Robert Andrews, have pointed out that Hearst publications and The Times in the UK have tried out similar pricing schemes.