Why does FWW cost more than other magazines?

comments (29) December 1st, 2011 in blogs

AsaC Asa Christiana, Special Projects Editor, Fine Woodworking magazine
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A prospective reader recently contacted us via e-mail, to ask a question that we get from time to time. It is a valid one:

"I am starting to get into woodworking, and I’ve looked at your magazine. It is very nice but it is more expensive than the others.  I am currently undecided about subscribing. Your thoughts?
— Dave Ussell"

We usually hesitate to answer, preferring not to blow our own horn but just let the magazine (and website) speak for itself. But lately I've been thinking that in this tough economy, it might not be a bad idea to spell out exactly what you get for your money. The answer is pretty straightforward: It's the quality of the content, and the amount of it. To really make an informed buying decision, you really need to compare the various magazines side by side. Count the pages of editorial content. Then take a close look at the photos and illustrations; they make things clear when words can't. 

It all starts with the amount of traveling we do. The editors are all trained photographers, who travel to our authors' shops to shoot almost every photo in the magazine. That means we can show you exactly what you need to see to understand a technique. It also means that the photos are nicely lit and composed, intended to be as inspiring as the beautiful woodwork they portray. Authors generally can't do that on their own, though would be much cheaper for us to stay in our cubicles and use authors' shots. The author visit is also critical because of what the editor learns by being there in person as the author goes through the steps.

A closer look reveals that we get the majority of our articles from outside experts. We used over 100 different people last year. Our editors are all passionate woodworkers themselves, but the magazine would be far less rich and relevant if all of the info came from us. Our goal is to find best author on any given topic, throughout North America. So for hand-tool use, among many other writers you get Garrett Hack and Chris Gochnour, both experts on the history and tradition, but also professional furnituremakers who continue to expand and refine their knowledge in the cauldron of a real working shop. Period furniture lovers get Steve Latta and Phil Lowe, widely recognized as two of the best reproduction craftsmen working today. For contemporary designs and techniques, you get Michael Fortune, who has received Canada's highest honor for craftsmanship. The same goes for the Shaker style, with Chris Becksvoort; or Arts & Crafts furniture with Kevin Rodel.

Another costly component is the illustrations, but they are worth every penny. They are largely hand-drawn so they can be exploded and arranged to show you every detail and dimension that the photos can't, yet look beautiful and handcrafted at the same time. Again, it would be much easier to just take what authors send in, or do crude drawings in CAD, but those just don't cut it.

Doing a magazine this way isn't cheap, but it makes it more inspiring, and a better teaching tool. And that's the bottom line: We want to do better than just give you a nice read in your rocking chair; we want to inspire you to get out of that chair, to take the magazine out to your shop and use it to become more efficient and get better results, and bring to life all of those beautiful things that exist only in your mind's eye.

So that is the ultimate test: Actually use a few of our articles--to build something or improve your skills. We think you will find Fine Woodworking to be a trusted companion and a great value.

Our mission: to inform and inspire


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All of the editors and art staff are passionate woodworkers, so they understand the romance of the craft. They also have the skills and equipment to convey that in a photo. 

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Our expert illustrators work with us to explode drawings cleverly so every key detail is clear. We also know that beautiful drawings are inspiring. A rich construction drawing is like a 5-course dinner to someone hooked on building things. Also, note the step-by-step photos at right; they are well-lit, informative and dynamic, with the pieces in motion but captured at just the right moment. This only happens when an informed third-party takes the shots.

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FWW editors are also trained photographers, and travel to every shop we cover to get shots like this one in our recent Tools & Shops issue. Our goal is both to inform and inspire.

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We work with a small cadre of illustrators, who have various specialties but all know what FWW readers need to see. John Hartman does many of our shop construction drawings, where his photo-realistic style and building knowledge are invaluable. This is the same “Ultimate One-Man Shop” shown above.



posted in: blogs


Comments (29)

delaunj53 delaunj53 writes: I generally agree that FWW is a nice publication, but in my opinion it is just getting stale. Perhaps it is published too often, and almost certainly it has fallen into a continual promotion of "stuff". The recewnt article "Why you need a benchtop sander" is a classic example of an article promoting something I certainly do not need, as is the inordinate space given to the Saw Stop controversy, and the positioning of one of their products in many photos. I agree with another observer that the articles about why to send projects out for finishing and how to assemble a guitar kit really missed the mark for me. I believe that it is time for me to try something else.
Posted: 11:08 am on December 13th

plumber54 plumber54 writes: My experiance with FFW goes back to a time when issue 4 was published and I had to save for six months to buy an orbital sander. Is the magazine informative, beautiful, yes indeed. is it expensive? Yes. There have been many renewal times that I have questioned myself, "can I truly afford it"? Yet I'm continually drawn back. Even during the 1990's when there seemed to be a departure into "arts ether" I still read.
I've grown in my abilities during the last Thirty years. Not perfect, maybe not great, but I've learned my craft through reading and putting that to practice. There are other sources that I explore, yet FFW fuels the inspiration of my current space in time.
Posted: 6:12 pm on December 7th

POMMJOHN POMMJOHN writes: DEAR SIR

YOUR MAG IS NOT TO DEAR, YOU SHOULD SEE WHAT WE TO PAY IN ADELAIDE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA. WE PAY 100% MORE THAN COST.LAST TIME I LOOKED IT WAS $13.50 AUS
Posted: 9:16 pm on December 4th

XC1 XC1 writes: I am an online subscriber and primarily use the iPad. I would like a better interface that doesn't require the constant use of pdfs.
Posted: 6:37 pm on December 4th

jweisgram jweisgram writes: My opinion is that the quality of content in FWW has gone downhill somewhat over the last 20 years, while certain other publications have improved, to the point that FWW is a close second in terms of what is available as a woodworking magazine.

Either way for my needs it remains an excellent value.

With regard to the dust collection article I'd hardly consider it state of the art. Not bad overall, but missing some useful info and concepts. For example, rather than stating nobody makes an aftermarket canister for dust collectors that has submicron filtration, you might have mentioned Wynn Environmental's 35A.

And while you may not subscribe to Bill Pentz' opinion that dust collection must remove a high percentage of submicron dust at the source I believe the argument deserves mention in a "state of the art" article. Not just repeating information that the larger manufacturers want us to hear.
Posted: 9:53 pm on December 3rd

AsaC AsaC writes: Thanks for the kind words, everyone, and the helpful feedback. Good exchange, Ian. And I'll see you in Williamsburg, Jerry. I'll be at the first session, and Matt Kenney will be at the second.
Posted: 7:32 pm on December 3rd

gbear1 gbear1 writes: I love FWW. I subscribe to several woodworking magazines and for me FWW is the best fit. That said, it's good that we have choices and competition. If I could only select one, it would be FWW both on line and in print.
thanks, george
Posted: 3:48 pm on December 3rd

Slooper Slooper writes: While all the strengths Asa lists I agree with, the magazine's cost, from the consumer's perspective, would still need to be justified. The fact that this magazine equally emphasizes both power and hand tools has, for those of us who prefer one over the other, made this publication half the magazine for twice the price.

An online subscription, however, with it's video content and access to an archive of published articles, allows subscribers access to material that's always relevant to them no matter their preference.

At any rate, at the end of the day, the measure of a magazine's worth is determined by how much of the content works it's way into your skill set, shop and/or projects. For me, I get more bang for the buck online.

-Matt

Posted: 3:19 pm on December 3rd

beem beem writes: Sorry, Matt, I misspelled your name - it's Kenney not Kenny.

Apropos of my embarrassing spelling and grammatical mistakes, which are more than a few, it would be nice if an edit feature were available for posted comments....show some love for us anal retentive types.
Posted: 12:18 pm on December 3rd

beem beem writes: For my money, it's the magazine in conjunction with the web content that makes FWW the best. The editorial staff is top notch, the content both print and online is second to none, and they were able to get celebrity exposure on the David Letterman Show (way to go Asa!). Besides, the fact that Matt Kenny, a Ph.D. in Philosophy, is on the editorial team is what sold me. ;-)

FWW is worth the price and more. Keep up the great work!
Posted: 11:49 am on December 3rd

mrfixitnow mrfixitnow writes: You get what you pay for. Fine Woodworking is simply the best woodworking magizine out there. Other sister magazines from Taunton are also the best in their catagories.

Keep up the great work you do.
Posted: 11:13 am on December 3rd

KenBee KenBee writes: I absolutely don't feel or agree that FWW is superior to other woodworking mags. I subscribe to 5 different woodworking mags and FWW is not one of them. $35.00 is in my opinion about 14-15 dollars more than it is worth compared to other mags. I do subscribe to FWW online and at times I feel that is a mistake but will keep my online subscription going for a while because unlike the mag the online version is worth the cost. The illustrations and content are no better or worse than a couple of the more popular advertisement laden mags like FWW. It would be helpful it it had plans and project drawings in each issue and not gear them specifically toward experienced woodworkers either. If I had to rate FWW in comparison to other mags I would place it at number 4 and that is being kind.
Posted: 10:10 am on December 3rd

Handtool37 Handtool37 writes: As an English subscriber to the magazine I can only praise the way the magazine is compiled, it's contents and the detail that is put into the publication. Like all specialist magazines there are many topics that fall outside my real interest range, however by reading these article there are times when one can pick up a useful technique that can be applied elsewhere. I find the detail of the drawings, the photographs cover 90% of what one requires and do not find much need for cut lists etc.

Being also an online member I find this service absolutely wonderful for reading back articles and working techniques of all types. This has got me out of the proverbial on many occasions. I do not know any other publisher that offers this service. I would not like to go all digital as reading your magazine is a great way to relax sitting in a comfortable chair, can't beat it.

I envy you Americans in that you have much easier access to quality wood than what is available locally here in the UK where good wood suppliers are thin on the ground.

Finally just to say looking forward to my next copy of FWW.
Posted: 7:51 am on December 3rd

DaveRichards DaveRichards writes: buyernate wrote, "I have but one suggestion and that is to include plans and materials lists."

Although not included in the magazine, complete plans including materials/cut lists are available in the store for many or the projects in the magazine. These plans are more complete and detailed than any could be in a magazine. For example the plan for Steve Latta's Serpentine Sideboard runs to 13 pages not including the full size pattern sheet.
Posted: 3:57 pm on December 2nd

ondablade ondablade writes: Thanks for coming back Asa. I'm happy to agree that your piece took an important step in bridging the gap in DIY dust collection practices.

It's clear too that there is a reality (with it's origins in many years of practice) that has to be taken account of - people simply won't make the jump in a single step, and that anyway the suppliers are only starting to respond to effectively to more sophisticated needs.

The need (or not) for 5HP is quite highly dependent on the length of your ducting runs, and on how much cushion against motor overloading you want in case too many machines are connected at once. Chances are too that there's scope for machine hooding arrangements that will reduce the CFM (and hence the HP) required for effective fine dust collection.

Pardon my pushing the issue, I'm not in touch with the total picture anyway. I'm optimistic though about the prospects of getting the average woodworking punter up to speed on the technicalities of what constitutes a good system.

What gets people antsy I suspect is being faced with the need to bridge a technical performance, build time or cost gap that isn't feasible for them given what's available in the market.

The flip side I think however is the unfortunate reality that if there isn't some pressure of this sort maintained, that the industry will fall back into an unhealthy reliance on the status quo.

That if we don't keep some heat on that we'll all be congratulating each other on our state of the art dust systems in 15 years time, and wondering why we're wheezing while we're doing it....

ian
Posted: 3:04 pm on December 2nd

hydroelectricguy hydroelectricguy writes: As a charter subscriber to FWW ( I have every back issue)and to the FWW web site I can honestly say I have never been disappointed by a single issue. My favorite issues had the centerfold designs.I have evolved into much more of a hand tool user over the years and the magazine and web continue to get my attention. I especially enjoy the video workshops such as Phil Lowe making a cabriole leg.
Keep up the good work Asa and I hope to see you in Williamsburg this year.

Jerry Olson
Posted: 2:34 pm on December 2nd

AsaC AsaC writes: I stand by all of the advice given in the dust article. Of course, we could have dived in a whole lot deeper, as you point out, but our editorial judgement was that most people don't care to. The article, plus the one in the same issue on state-of-the-art shop vacs (with HEPA), goes deeper than any article has before (that I know of), asking folks to take fine dust more seriously, and taking the industry to task for not doing so. If you freak out hobbyists with too much science, and tell them they need a 5hp cyclone (they don't), most will give up before they begin. Bear in mind that most folks have an old 30-micron bag system, if anything, so even a pleated filter is a huge upgrade. This was our logic anyway. You have every right to disagree.


Posted: 1:50 pm on December 2nd

ondablade ondablade writes: It's clear that my perspective may not be typical Asa, but the Tools and Shops issue no.223 was precisely what I had in mind when I commented about FWW's handling of the dust system issue.

It was a great step forward to see the fundamental need for HEPA filtration, and the consequent requirement for a cyclone (if you want to do this) nailed down in respectable print.

But was it a piece on the state of the art??? Cmon. It (a) wasn't representative in terms of what's out there in cyclones (it was remarkable photo opp for one manufacturer); (b) made no effort to separate the performance of the different solutions on fine fine dust retention; and (c) made no reference whatsoever that I could see to the other basic variable in achieving effective fine dust collection at a machine which is the CFM delivered by the system - which in turn is fundamental in sizing a cyclone and related parts of a dust system.

What for example determines the choice between the larger 5HP cyclone based systems you see about, and the more typical 2HP type? This is a huge issue - what's the point in fitting HEPA filters if your system is not capable of effectively capturing dust as it's produced, and is instead allowing the shop to fill with it? Both are pitched at similar small shop applications, which means that somebody is gilding the lily.

Here's more. While it in a basic way confirms that the cyclones do their job, what use is it to anybody to know that they can send 20lbs or whatever of dust through a given cyclone before the filter blinds when this is left unrelated to run time, distribution of particles sizes in the dust and CFM?

The CFM issue surfaces elsewhere too in the mag in the piece featuring a very lovely one man shop.

In what way does reducing the drop to a machine to 4in improve system efficiency? Without getting into the engineering my (basic) HVAC training suggests that a choke point anywhere in a low pressure (<25in WG) air system will due to incompressibility) act to significantly reduce the airflow.

I know it's common practice to see what looks like smaller branches to machines in industrial systems, but this is surely when multiple simultaneously running machines (each with properly sized drops) feed back into a common header - which is in turn enlarged to handle the combined flow?

Reducing to 4in dia may well get a low CFM or leaky system over the hump in terms of getting chips up the vertical, but overall it's going to substantially reduce system CFM and hence (with typical machine hooding) the effectiveness of fine dust collection.

I'm acutely aware that there's probably a gap between systems capable of delivering the sort of 1 - 5mcg/m3 (8hrs) air quality required in regulated industrial environments (in Europe anyway), and what the DIY guy often gets.

But surely it's time that this issue was called in public debate? There's a few pioneering manufacturers out there that have already shown that this gap can be bridged for us recreational guys too.

ian
Posted: 12:20 pm on December 2nd

AsaC AsaC writes: By the way, I take every person's feeback here to heart, and blend it into what we know from surveys and just meeting people and visiting shops. We are always open to various shifts in direction and trying new things. For example, a lot of people have told us we need to go beyond furniture and boxes, so we've been trying some articles on guitar-making, making entry doors, etc. The problem with the fringe stuff, though, is that everyone wants something slightly different. The best solution is the web, where it can live forever, and continue to find its small but passionate audience.
Posted: 10:52 am on December 2nd

AsaC AsaC writes: I'll respond to a few of the questions and comments at once. There aren't enough tablet owners in our audience yet to pay for us developing an iPad version, though I would love to, and no doubt eventually will. Imagine a FWW where you click on a picture and it turns into video, where drawings become animations, and so on. That's the Holy Grail.

And I just personally did a state-of-the-art article on dust collection in FWW #223, our annual Tools & Shops issue. There hasn't been one like it anywhere else:
http://www.finewoodworking.com/ToolGuide/ToolGuidePDF.aspx?id=34367
Check it out, "ondablade." I think it is exactly what you are looking for.

As for plans, every dimension and detail you need is in the exploded drawings, though you'll have to to some work on your own to make a cutlist. That said, we are strongly considering putting cutlists online for free. They are just a spece-hog in the magazine.

On the overall direction of the magazine, here's our goal: We try to be as useful as we can to as many people as possible, without compromising on our core values, which are to show how to build things that will last decades, and are tasteful enough that you will want to live with them for that long.

But of course, we can't be perfect for everyone. We know from our many readers surveys, for example, that the vast majority of our readers are hobbyists, and are not interested in info on how to succeed as a pro, though we sprinkle that in from time to time for our pro and prospective pro audience. Same for the folks who want interviews and craftsman profiles. We sprinkle those in but always make sure the magazine is packed with practical how-to info, which is what most people want.


Posted: 9:52 am on December 2nd

robbo41 robbo41 writes: The older issues were much better. Fewer tool reviews. More craftsman interviews, quirkier stuff, great techniques and tips and making your own tools and jigs. Not just purchasing your way to proficiency. Take a look at your archive from the 1980s - that was great stuff.
Posted: 7:06 am on December 2nd

ondablade ondablade writes: I enjoy the consistently high production values, but quite honestly would prefer less gloss and more content - especially on high quality furniture making, and aspects of woodworking beyond traditional cabinet making.

The overlap into the business, industry and woodworking markets dimensions are left largely untouched which surely is a mistake - it's not a DIY home improvement mag.

Please concentrate on show and tell pieces in the context of specific projects which set the 'how to' in context - and which worry less about maintaining a short and snappy style than on effective communication of comprehensive information. Piecemeal 'how to'/'hints and tips' stuff is much harder to absorb or utilise too.

Please also get up to speed on topics like dust and chip collection. So far the magazine has consistently endorsed approaches that if not downright incorrect are certainly sub optimal in matters to do not just with the mechanics of dust collection, but also health and safety.

Finally. Please end the hard sell - the saturation bombing of those with or that had subscriptions etc. with sales material. It's become offensive and off-putting, and communications to this effect are ignored.

I took out a magazine sub a few years ago, but I won't do so again until it starts to feel like it's my choice as to whether or not to renew....

ian
Posted: 4:16 am on December 2nd

buyernate buyernate writes: I too love Fine Woodworking and each issue I "drink in" the articles.

I have but one suggestion and that is to include plans and materials lists.

Competitors include those and I enjoy looking them over and on those projects that I do decide too build they serve as a good jumping off point.

nate bacon
Greencastle, PA

PS: I enjoy the video additions on the website too!
Posted: 11:47 pm on December 1st

Pete_CreekView Pete_CreekView writes: I'd purchase a lifetime membership to FWW if it was available.
Posted: 10:58 pm on December 1st

peterpondel peterpondel writes: Are you planning on making FW and FH available as a subscription on iPad anytime soon?
Posted: 10:33 pm on December 1st

fussy fussy writes: I have to agree with the other guys. I'm a rank amateur wood butcher, but I really feel I get more inspiration and education from FineWoodowrking than most of the rest combined.

The editorial staff is top notch, the photography rivals National Geographic (don't see too many pics of oak trees eating Gnus, though), and the projects are out there; not so far that I'm afraid to try, but not so simple I would be ashamed to say I did it(or COULDN'T DO IT).

The price is in line with the value. Just don't raise it anyime soon.

Steve
Posted: 9:12 pm on December 1st

AsaC AsaC writes: Thanks for the kind words, guys. I'll make sure the staff sees them.
Posted: 5:31 pm on December 1st

hbowern hbowern writes: I have had many woodworking magazines in the past, but FWW is the best one out there. More content, more pictures, and certainly the best editorial staff going.

After many years of getting the physical copy of the magazine, I have switched to the online membership. This gives me the best of both worlds (current magazine and the ability to find old articles and stories to help me in my many projects).

There are a lot of other online magzines on woodworking, but "none" come close to FWW.

My feelings on this subject...

Regards
Harold
Posted: 4:59 pm on December 1st

gparas gparas writes: Well said. I look forward to every issue. Kudos especially to your illustrators. I love the look of the illustrations and I believe they enhance the projects. As much as Sketchup has helped woodworkers create and build projects, it's nice to see real hand drawn artwork. Keep it up.

Thanks, George
Posted: 3:21 pm on December 1st

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