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Free online magazine subscriptions

Goldberg: Publications targeted at specific professions, demographics

I steer clear of free trial offers for magazines simply because: 1. the publisher’s ultimate goal is to hook me into paying full-subscription price; and 2. more often than not, I end up with a charge on my credit card that I have to file a complaint with the credit-card company to have removed. Then, I discovered free trade publications, which require no credit card information to subscribe.

So why are these publications free? The short answer is advertising. The long answer is: New subscribers have to fill out a short form to qualify. The information gathered is then used by the publishers to establish readership demographics, which in turn, they use to charge a higher premium for their ads, explains David Fortino, director of business development at NetLine.com, a division of tradepub.com.

In the long run, everyone wins. Consumers want the information but are not likely to pay high subscription rates for limited circulation magazines. Publishers know exactly who their readers are — vital to sustain any publication — and can charge high advertising rates. Commercial companies pay higher rates to advertisement but that generates business. Ah, the capitalist system at its best, no?

Tradepub.com is one of the largest free trade publication shops in cyberspace. The Boulder Creek, Calif.-based company offers more than 200 publications, most of which focus on a specific sector of the business world or a technical field. The magazines are organized by area of interest, from agriculture to energy and utility. To subscribe, cyber shoppers just have to click on a magazine that interests them and answer a few questions about their interest in the field.

The company tracks the top 10 publications at any moment. Recent top 10 journals included Today’s Chemist at Work, Modern Reprographics and Z/Journal, a magazine for IT management and technical professionals using IBM zSeries and S/390 Systems.

Consumers can be rejected if their interests are not compatible with the publishers, says Fortino. For example, doctors are eligible for medical journals. But if they apply for a subscription to Chemical Equipment Magazine, they would not qualify, he explains.

Freebizmag.com is another free trade publication service online, which stocks more than 300 business publications. The Stanford, Conn.-based company is a division of SynapseConnect, a subsidiary of Synapse. AOL/Time Warner is the parent company of Synapse.

Freebizmag.com uses a different model than tradepub.com to acquire subscribers. Consumers enter basic profile information related to job title/function and in return, they receive a computer-generated list of offers, which they can accept or decline.

The benefit of the AOL/Time Warner connection is some of the free subscriptions are hot newsstand titles. For example, because I write for the Internet, I was able to sign up for Budget Living and Ladies Home Journal.

A handful of Web sites also offer free lifestyle publications to “qualifying” consumers. Expectant and new mothers can sign up for americanbaby.com and verybestbaby.com. Each month, American Baby features articles about child development, heath issues and fashion. Very Best Baby is sponsored by Nestle Carnation Infant Nutrition but “every free issue is tailored to your stage of pregnancy or to your baby’s age,” says the description online.

Boatowners.com has a series of boating-related publication, from a trial copy of Cruising World to a free subscription of Boating Life. Truckers can order a free subscription of American Trucker from trucker.com.

Of course, all of these lifestyle magazines are filled with advertisements targeted toward consumers with an interest in the subject but they also contain some valuable tips and useful information.

A few commercial companies even offer free publications. Lego requires that subscribers to club.lego.com register first. My personal favorite is Feat magazine, offered by rockport.com. Just click on the link at the bottom of the screen to sign up for the promotional fashion and style magazine that focuses on shoes and accessories for the feet.

Teri Goldberg is MSNBC.com’s shopping writer. Write to her at personalshopper@msnbc.com