Thursday, November 20, 2008

Buried by magazine subscription cards

I have a simmering gripe against the magazine industry that has nothing to do with their cruel rejections, their capricious edits and the dodgy pay systems that have me fantasizing about making nuisance raids on all their posh New York offices to steal things like staplers and coffee machines.

That’d fix ‘em!

Of course, that all goes with the territory for anyone who, as I do, freelances for a living. That is the price we pay for living in what one employed friend of mine derides as “the fool’s paradise.”

But that is not the thrust of today’s complaints. No, my gripe is once again on the selfless behalf of all humanity.

What’s bugging me is the ticker tape parade of biggie-sized confetti that flies out of the new magazines whenever I flip through the pages. It’s those stupid mail subscription cards.

Understand, I have a deeply vested interest in magazines succeeding. I need them to thrive so that they’ll be prosperous enough to hire guys like me to write panic deadline stories then wait up to six months to see the paycheck for a diminished amount that wasn’t on the contract.

So I’m in favor of any steps magazines do to increase readership and revenue.

But it’s a confounding silliness to believe that stuffing your product with these deforesting little annoyances results in any appreciable increase in readers. If they did, then each month, each magazine ought to be increasing its circulation roughly six fold until every person in the world was subscribing multiple times to every magazine.

Let’s start with Wired magazine, the techie magazine devoted to the digital age. In the entirety of the magazine’s 235-page December issue, I found just a handful of stories that didn’t involve something that needed to be plugged in to function. It’s a magazine that clearly seems eager to work itself out of business, or at least the print version of itself.

Yet that same issue included six nearly identical subscription cards for, I guess, their Amish readers who are culturally disinclined to go online to read or subscribe to a magazine that calls itself Wired.

Wouldn’t one strategically placed house ad/subscription card suffice? Of course it would.

But it’s the same with the golf, news, travel, regional, men’s, writer’s and New York magazines to which I subscribe. Note, I’m already a subscriber. They’re preaching to the choir. Maybe each think I have six reading friends for whom I’m going to shell out $20 for three years -- “A 3 Year Savings of $159.64! -- but that’s not going to happen. I don't have that many friends, the ones I have don't read much and, geez, who's got $20 to spare?

Of all the major magazines, the only one I know that’s renounced this wasteful practice is men's adventure magazine Outside's Go, a publication run by visionary and sensible editors who not only understand the cosmic import of this issue but also have had the wisdom to have twice employed me this year. So they’re all earth-loving geniuses. And I’ll bet they all smell nice, too.

I used to collect all the mailers from magazines that owed me money and drop the dictionary-thick sized stack of them in the mail every month or so. This meant they’d have to pay pennies of postage for each one returned blank. I was hoping the practice would bring these publishing titans to their senses.

It never did and I began to take pity on Mother Nature and our humble postal employees for the unwelcome burdens I was spitefully imposing to their already overtaxed systems.

As you can surmise, I’ve always been one of those nasty tack-on-the-chair sort of revenge seekers. I’m not proud of it, but I’m working on it -- and you’d better just stay on my good side.

So now I just toss them in with the recycled newspapers. Once read, the magazines I take to the local hospital for dispersal in all their godforsaken waiting rooms. Here’s another childish habit: if I have a story in one of the magazines I anonymously write “How insightful!” or “Witty observations throughout!” in the margins.

And I usually bookmark the page with a single subscription mailing card.

I’m just trying to be helpful.

So feel free to share your ideas on how we, together, can end this wasteful practice. Both constructive and malicious ideas are welcome so don’t be shy if something involves things like tacks on chairs or stink bombs.

It’s all for the greater good.

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