Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Magazines. It gets worse...

So, I was listening to NPR the other day (just trying to hear Mitt Romney's gaffe-of-the-day, or maybe get the latest Comintern update) when they broadcast a report on human slavery in the U.S. Given the subject, I expect to hear stories of human trafficking related to the sex trade or farm labor, but the 'industry' they seemed to talk about the most was door-to-door magazine sales.
Although the life of the slave's been romanticized in movies...
...the actual history of slavery's less attractive. And in fact, it's possible that a modern slave, working on a magazine sales crew, might pass essentially undetected in suburbia.

Since I used to work for motorcycle magazines here in the U.S. (full disclosure: I still do write a column for the UK magazine Classic Bike) I know that many subscription deals are essentially loss leaders -- the amount of money, if any, that comes back to the magazine is less than the cost of mailing out the magazines, but the nominal increase in 'subscribers' boosts the advertising rate base.

I also used to work in the ad business, so don't get me started on the advertising value of a subscriber who pays "pennies an issue!" for your magazine. What evidence can magazines present to advertisers that such subscribers care about the magazine's contents or can even be bothered to flip through it?

But, I digress... I thought, how fucking desperate is the magazine that does business with these sleazeballs?

I should have guessed that something was up with those 'sales crews'. The only time I ever encountered one, it came in the form of an inner-city teenaged girl who claimed to go to a local school (impossible, given my address) and who became abusive when I politely told her that I was not interested.

I never got to the point in that transaction where I really looked at what magazines she was offering me. So I don't know whether any of the 'big' U.S. motorcycle mags were on her list. Although they should know better, major publishers do actually let real fucking scammers sell subs for them. Typically, publishing execs plead ignorance, when it comes to which 'clearing houses' they use to sell subs and how those clearing houses recruit sales crews. I certainly don't have any contacts high enough in the business hierarchies of Bonnier Corp., which owns Cycle World or Source Interlink (Motorcyclist) to find out whether they are selling subs this way. And my contacts on the Editorial side of those mags certainly wouldn't know.

But maybe some Backmarker reader does know. Has anyone out there answered their door, and been subjected to a high-pressure/BS sales pitch for a magazine subscription, and had the menu of magazines on offer include motorcycle magazines? If so, please contact me, eh?

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