Time to stop blowing

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.

12 comments

  1. Tim’s avatar

    I hate to tell the folks at Wired marketing, but the first thing I do when I get a new issue is to throw out all the blow-ins and tear out any pages that are thicker than the rest (usually pasted in ads). The main reason for getting a dead-tree edition of any magazine is to be able to easily flip through and read pieces when I’m somewhere without computer/web access. All that crap detracts from the flipping.

  2. Mary Schmidt’s avatar

    Yep, I immediately shake out the cards over the recycling bin.

    If you use a shotgun, you’re bound to hit something…and have a lot of ticked-off “targets” you missed by a mile.

    Now, I’ve got to go delete a bunch of “ACT Now! Special LIMITED Time Offer for you, Mary, our valued customer!” emails – unopened, unread.

  3. Don Marti’s avatar

    Why not make Business Reply Mail cards and envelopes have a redemption value, like cans and bottles? Collect n BRM items, turn them in at the post office, and they give you a stamp, and the holder of the BRM permit pays for it.

  4. Lisa’s avatar

    I never throw out those insert cards. Why, they have so many good household uses. Toddlers can play post office with them! Older kids can stack them in the fireplace grate along with the kindling! They make dandy bookmarks! Kids playing office games can feed them to the shredder! Can’t find the shovel? They can be used to pick up swept kitchen crumbs!
    I’m sure I can think of more. And I’ll bet the marketing gurus would be SO happy to know their design, printing, and distribution dollars are not going to waste !!!

  5. Mike Warot’s avatar

    I think Chris nailed it right on the head when he talked about the problem of costs that are unmeasured or externalized. This is the source of spam, advertising, etc. It’s all about pushing costs away from view.
    It also works (for a while, perhaps a generation at a time) in Politics, until the pile of BS is so big that it falls over and kills the elephant in the room. ;-)
    Hope you’re feeling better. Just took Virginia for her first walk around the block, ever. She got to see the flowers, and pick up a stick to carry around. She’s sleeping it off now.
    –Mike–

  6. Chip’s avatar

    I’ve often been tempted to fill out blow-ins (as well as bound ins) with nonsense and dump them back in the mail.

    Just not worth my time
    Same as Mary – all go to recycle bin (amidst grumbles)

  7. Jan Searls’s avatar

    I don’t mind so much the cards that come in publications I purchase at a news agent or store; after all, I guess they do want me to subscribe. But I deeply resent having to field-strip subscription publications when they arrive at my home. I’m already subscribing – why should I be targeted with a card? Just a thought but why do all those loose cards stay in throughout shipment and postal handling, only to fall out the moment they cross my threshold?

  8. Rex Hammock’s avatar

    Doc, in the February issue of Wired, in a cover story about annoying things, a two-page spread was devoted to blow-in cards. I wrote about it at the time as I thought it a great follow-up to Chris’ earlier post.

  9. Mary Schmidt’s avatar

    I feel a blog post coming on: Dead Elephants and Marketing Insanity.
    (Now, if I can just find a photo with a pile of BS toppling over on the elephant…;-)

    Jan – I’m with you – if Gourmet can print a separate cover for subscribers…couldn’t they also not put in those dang cards? If I do lend the magazine to someone – they’re adults, have subscribed to magazines before – and know they can get a much better deal online.

    Somehow I don’t think this will ever be the title of a marketing book: “Want Business? Do MORE of the Things You KNOW Piss People OFF!” Yet, that’s how many marketers operate.

  10. Will Rowan’s avatar

    I teach some modules on online marketing to the magazine industry in the UK… it’s *very* clear that digital marketing thinking cuts right across analogue (print) techniques.

    “Digital” is much more sensitive to feelings of the 99.9x% that don’t respond to promotions… but it’s also clear that many of these junior marketing folk aren’t working in departments that are indoctrinated in testing, measurement & management of their marketing.

    If publications thought more about the Return on Investment on marketing, many of those loose blow-ins wouldn’t stack up.

    (stay healthy Doc!)

  11. Steve MacLaughlin’s avatar

    I literally just used this example in a presentation. Who sends those things back? I’ve used them to take notes on, a drink coaster, paper airplane, and other random things, but I’ve never once sent one back in. If they stopped putting them in…would anyone really notice?

  12. Opted In vs. Engaging In « Wide Open Spaces’s avatar

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