April 15, 2008

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In The connection between PR spam, global warming and magazines, Chris Anderson of Wired addresses something which, as both a magazine writer and reader, I truly hate:

  …I must concede that this problem of negative externalities is one that my own industry overlooks, too. Take those “blow-in” subscription cards that we put in our magazines. Our circulation department wants to put in as many as possible, because five cards have a slightly higher chance of one being sent back than four, and six is slightly higher yet. As long as those cards earn more in subscriptions than the cost of paper and print, they’re consider a good thing from the circulation department perspective.

  Yet as we editors who talk to readers and get their email know, people HATE those cards. They fall out of magazines when you pick them up, forcing you to bend over to retrieve them and find a trash can in which to throw them away. This is a real negative cost that hurts our relationship with our readers, but because we can’t measure it directly, it’s an externality and thus mispriced at zero in the economics of the magazine industry.

  Likewise for every marketing email that we send (even through they’re opt-in) that isn’t relevant to the recipients. And every misleading direct mail offer, or renewal request nine months before your subscription really expires.

  I bring these all up because we at Wired recognize that there are real costs to this sort of thing, even if we can’t directly measure them, and we’re trying to minimize these practices. It will take a while, since traditions don’t give way easily, but if we can tax carbon and slow global warming, surely we can reduce the number of blow-in cards in America’s magazines.

Bravo.