Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Magazine Subscriptions: The Deception and The Light

Maybe a tad over the top, but I wanted to make my point...

What better way to start off a productive morning than a rant? I actually got up to go to the gym with Matt today and walked on the treadmill. Miracle, miracle! Now I'm home again and flipping through an issue of Olive, which made me think of this...

* * *

The Deception

When it comes to magazine subscriptions, I've been burned too many times. There are few magazines I find interesting enough as it is to actually justify getting them mailed to me, but something about the inherent shadiness and lack of clarity in the subscribing process is what really turns me off. If I do subscribe, I know what I'll generally do with them - let them sit on the coffee table for weeks at a time, until the pile grows and grows. And I'll probably complain to Matt that I never should have subscribed to begin with and curse the gods of get-12-for-the-price-of-1-deals.

There have only ever been three notable exceptions to this in my lifetime:
1. US Weekly (which I ignorantly called U.S. Weekly for the first year I got it)
2. Bon Appetit (kind of)
3. Olive Magazine

No surprise there - two out of three are food magazines. The odd mag out is a shamelessly mind numbing but oh-so-tempting celebrity gossip page-turner that we've all been sucked into reading once or twice before and which merits a lengthy disclaimer unto itself:

Lengthy Disclaimer Regarding my Former Subscription to and Continued Reading of US Weekly Magazine

I decided to subscribe to US Weekly while living in NYC because I got sick of paying the newsstand price and found myself getting strangely annoyed when I missed an issue. Oddly, despite the hell everyone around me gave me for -

a. the poor quality of the articles and the people they were about
b. the morally questionable contribution I was making to the livelihoods of asshole paparazzi
c. and the banality and therefore corruptive-mind-numbing effects of the information contained within

- there was almost never a single person (aforementioned, usually MALE, accusers included) who didn't get hooked into reading the magazine cover-to-cover or at least looking at all the pictures once they'd picked it up. You know who you are.

This is how and why I totally justify my indulgence in that guilty pleasure. And also why I don't feel like a stupid American when I go to my UK newsagent and ask him what day he gets his US Weekly delivery so I can actually venture out of the cave that day to pick it up.

Interestingly, while you may think the British are above all this idiocy, it is actually a fact that the aforementioned newsstand agent has almost always sold out if I ever get there anytime past noon. And that is the case wherever I go: Putney, Earl's Court, Sloane Square. The fact that they even carry it on their stands when it is impossible to subscribe to it in the UK says enough for me.

So yeah, don't judge.

* * *

But actually, I'm more interested in discussing the latter two magazines I've subscribed to in my day and why it is exactly that, as a rule, magazine subscriptions and I don't mix.

As I was saying, when it comes to magazine subscriptions, I've been burned too many times...

Top Three Scarring Magazine Subscription Incidents
not all my fault, but nevertheless, perfect examples of shady marketing

3. Seventeen Magazine: The Adolescent Venus Fly Trap
When I was a kid (and actually even now), I had an obsession with getting the mail. I always ran outside the moment I saw the the mail car drive away and relished handing the mail out to people in my family.

One sunny day I received a free Seventeen Magazine. Being untainted by the ways of the world, I was thrilled when I discovered one of those "Get 6 issues free if you send in this postcard!" thingies. I, of course, without telling my parents, sent it in. The elation continued when I started receiving my free issues and was able to collect copious amounts of picture cut-outs of the likes of Jared Leto, Jonathan Brandis, Gavin Rossdale, and Kurt Cobain. The elation reached an all-time high when I continued to receive "free issues" even past the 6th one. I had screwed the system!, I thought. They don't realize they are still sending me free magazines!

It really hurt when my parents received the bill for the post-6-free-issue issues and I had to pay for it out of my own pocket money. After that I was naturally suspicious of any and all magazines and subscribing to them.

2. Entertainment Weekly: Wait, we're PAYING for THIS?
Ten or so years later, living in NYC with my fiance, we were conned again. Matt made a purchase at Circuit City or Best Buy or something. At the counter, before you swipe your credit card, they asked if you wanted to receive a couple of free issues of Entertainment Weekly with your purchase. Matt, in a rush, agreed without listening and paid for whatever he was buying.

A couple of weeks later, we started receiving Entertainment Weekly in the mail. It is SUCH a crappy magazine that I actually didn't realize it was a bonafide publication people really paid for. I thought it was one of those stupid free catalogues about DVDs or music and every time I saw it, I threw it right in the trash along with the coupons and the random mail left over from the previous tenants.

A year later, living in London, we discovered a charge for Entertainment Weekly on our credit card. Despite being pretty on top of things with our expenses, we had both somehow neglected to notice that we had been paying for a magazine subscription for Entertainment Weekly for more than a year while not even living at the address it was being sent to anymore! Circuit City had used the same credit card number Matt paid with to hand over to EW after the "free subscription" ran out.

If that isn't highway robbery, I don't know what is. Strike two for magazine subscriptions.

1. Bon Appetit: An otherwise good thing gone SHADY
When I got my Masters in Education Matt gave me two great non-education-related gifts: a trip to the Churrascaria in Midtown I had been wanting to visit pretty much since we'd moved to NYC, and a subscription to Bon Appetit magazine (he knows the way to my heart). Both presents delivered unerringly. I stuffed my face with more grilled meat than I thought humanly possible and truly loved getting my Bon Appetit magazines. I read them all cover to cover. I tried out recipes constantly and really enjoyed reading about new restaurants (especially becaues NYC was almost always featured). Then we moved to London.

I called Bon Appetit and advised them months ahead of time that I would be leaving and that I wanted my magazines forwarded to my address in London. I was assured twice this would happen with no problem. Months later, living in London, I never received my magazines. Matt had pre-paid a year long subscription and even when I called to complain, nothing was ever done. I got screwed out of more than half of my paid subscription to one of the only magazines I actually enjoyed reading.

I was broken.

Misery loves company though, so I was glad to see I am not the only one who hates the relentless money-grubbing butt-heads in charge of recruiting new subscribers when I read this article.

* * *

The Light
(At the End of the Tunnel)

It doesn't take much to make the human brain forget pain. I guess that's why I'm pretty psyched about having Ludovictus, and why I have, once again, given the whole magazine subscription thing another try.

For me, the light at the end of the subscription-con nightmare is Olive Magazine. While sometimes a little too typically British in its reverse-snobbery- preachy-preachy-borderline- irrational tirades on the environment and "responsible consumerism," Olive Magazine delivers more than enough in terms of quality recipes, restaurant reviews, and interesting articles on European trends and relevant social and practical issues regarding ingredients and food to make me more than love it. It is like a young, hip, and funny version of Bon Appetit. I am a little sick of Gordon Ramsay (who is featured in ever single issue), but other than that, I am perfectly happy with my once-monthly opportunity to flip through and ogle at all the new, seasonal things I want to try, buy, or discuss with Matt.

So far so good in the con department. I get my monthly issues, I know what I'm paying, and every once in a while they throw in a random recipe book or gift at no extra charge. For this and more, I'll probably mention it numerous times over the course of my culinary dalliance entries.

Not sure if you can get it in the US, but it's worth talking to your newsagent just in case. :)

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1 comment:


    (didn't he die? ugh...)

    I am nearly four years into my 2 long-term periodical relationships:

    Vanity Fair
    National Geographic

    They've yet to do me wrong...