Magazines Take a Page From eBay Sellers

Okay, who came out of publishing school (or maybe flunked out of law school) and decided that magazines could start charging shipping and handling separately from the subscription price?

I discovered this trick first in Reader’s Digest, which I attributed to the last thrashings of a dying magazine. Let’s face it, readers who digest it are the same diminishing audiences who listen to Paul Harvey, and so long as damn punk kids like me resist federally funding their Viagra and Allegra and Nexium, they cannot keep splurging on reading material. So, I assumed, Reader’s Digest was looking to squeeze every last dime from its readers before their retirements ended.

But I just spotted the same kind of offer on a GQ reply card. It’s not as though GQ is suffering; their ad-to-content ratio is suitably annoying, with dozens of pages of beautiful people almost or mostly wearing Armani, Hugo Boss, Hilfiger, and Rolex. For only $12 a year plus $3 shipping and handling, I could spend a year reviewing the affluent coastal lifestyle.

The cost of mailing represents a normal cost of business for a magazine. They might as well stick us for a couple of dollars for printing and a couple of dollars for office rental, and pretty soon the subscription invoice looks like the phone bill. Instead of printing the real price, which means the real total in big numbers, the subscription departments play marketing games. This little game doesn’t get my ire up as much as an unsolicited subscription offer designed to look like an invoice so the unwary inadvertently pays for something that he or she did not order, but it’s close.

Magazines used to at least give lip service to wanting to inform and to have a thoughtful readership, but the new paradigm seems to be the more ignorant, the better. Look at the colorful ads and give us your money. Thank you, that is all.

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