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There are many Jewish weekly or monthly publications (e.g. magazines) that offer the following deal:

Individual copies of the magazine are priced at say, $5 each. But, if you "subscribe" by paying in advance for the entire year, you get a discounted price which comes out to say, $3 each week.

It seems that this is a classic case of ribbis in the form of poskin al hapeiros we find in Bava Metzia. The only way out of it is either (1) the product has had a price setting in the form of yatza hashaar, which I do not think applies to most commercial products these days, or (2) the publisher already has the copies of all the magazines you are buying (yesh lo), which is clearly not the case here.

How are the publishers of these Jewsih publications and their subscribers not violating the prohibition of ribbis?

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Are you suggesting the regular price is Ribbis, or the discounted price? Since it seems the discounted price is the opposite of Ribbis. –  geoffc Nov 24 '11 at 12:14
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@geoffc, This is a d'rabbanan form of ribbis. The idea is that I (the subscriber) am "loaning" the publisher money for the return of the product to be delivered later. Here, they are paying me back more product than I payed for (by discounting the price) because of my early payment (or in return for my loaning them money). In essence, they are "paying me" for the use of the money during that period (between payment and product delivery), which is considered ribbis. –  jake Nov 24 '11 at 12:26
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Is the cost of getting the magazine into the newsstand, or shipping it to you personally and not as part of a bulk mass mailing not allowed to be calculated? –  avi Nov 24 '11 at 13:17
    
@avi, Of course it is allowed to be calculated, but it would not amount to the difference. Plus, the mailing to the newsstand is also part of the mass mailing. Usually when you buy a magazine from a newsstand, you are really buying it directly from the publisher with a small fee tacked on so they can pay the newsstand a percentage. Additionally, this reasoning for the discount is not clear to the subscriber (they don't specify this reasoning in the subscription paper). –  jake Nov 24 '11 at 13:27
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@avi, A better rationale is that they are giving a discount not for the use of the money in the interim, but rather for the guarantee that you are indeed buying their publication for a full year. This is more clear to the subscriber. But then the question would be: Is that legitimate from a halachic perspective? –  jake Nov 24 '11 at 13:30
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1 Answer

up vote 7 down vote accepted

This issue is discussed here.

Summary: Magazine subscriptions to Jewish-owned publications are forbidden only where the discount is explicitly or obviously linked to the advance payment. In this case, the discount is usually linked to other factors, so most poskim permit it.

A little research online shows that the primary reasons that magazine publishers offer discounted (often severely discounted) prices for subscription is to raise advertising revenue (as advertisers pay more to be featured in magazines with more subscribers), and to be guaranteed the purchase for the whole year. This would then be permitted for Jewish publications.

However, if the subscription discount is advertised in a way that highlights the fact that the discount is for advance payment (e.g. "Subscription price is contingent on prepayment in full," or, "Pay for a year and save 45%") this would be problematic.

In the discussion here (note 43) though, an interesting problem is brought up:

If the price of the periodical increases during the subscription period, the subscribers could not be indemnified from the increase. In this case, a new subscriber who joins after the price increase is charged a higher price than the person who subscribed earlier. All of the outside motivations...apply to both subscribers. The only reason that those who subscribed earlier are protected from the increase is because they advanced funds at an earlier time. This benefit is prohibited.

The practical solution given there is that the publisher should offer the subscriber the option of paying the publisher itself or to place the money in escrow to be withdrawn by the publisher at the appropriate time. This eliminates the possibility that the discount is motivated by the advance payment. [It is also recommended that a heter iska klali be used.]

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