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November 30, 2007


Tom Farrell

Actually, "reply by" dates make me *less* likely to subscribe, because I have a tendency to procrastinate about these things and if I finally get around to deciding "oh, okay, I'll find that form and subscribe" and it's past the "reply by" date, I just assume they don't want to give me that rate, which means I don't want to give them my money, so I throw it out.

Also, anyone trying to get me to buy something by sending something that looks like, but isn't, an invoice, will fail: I drop those into the shredder. It's not so much that I feel that they've insulted my intelligence (although I do), but rather, it makes me feel that whoever decided to do that is a shady character who can not be trusted with my credit card number to make the payment: they might do *anything* with it.

Steve Parkinson

I tend to go for these, if its a magazine I like. They certainly offer good savings off the newsstand price.

Wired Magazine also litters the magazine with 4 or 5 subscription cards. I hope your team will get rid of these too. Or at least innovate them a little. Like, for example, making them postcards, with nice pictures, or bookmarks, or origami instructions. Anything to feel like they have some other anciliary value other than falling on my floor.

Current subscribers like myself shouldn't even get these cards in the first place. Is it really too hard to make the batch that is going to get wrapped in plastic and mailed off ALSO not get the inserts put in.

Mark Harrison

I have to admit, I find this one difficult.

For several years, I've taken a "no puffery" line in my business, and watched my more "in your face" competitors massively outsell me.

The problem is, of course, that "it works", and that for every Tom Farrell there are X Pavlovs who will respond when faced with such a deadline (where X is greater than 1).

The joy of owning my own business, though, is that I can make that "policy decision" to NOT work in a way that would, alas, maximise profits.

For a Marketing Director (let alone more junior staff) to act in way that undercut sales would be a hard decision, and one difficult to defend to external shareholders, I fear.

There's one area in which I want to disagree with you, though, Chris.

There's been enough research, particularly in areas like cognitive dissonance, to make me very suspicious of anyone's own self-analysis of "why they decided to buy."

Without a "control group" of Chris Andersons and the chance to observe your renewal behaviour when you DIDN'T get such moronic letters, it's hard to be sure :-) Who knows what subconscious effect the stupid thing had.

Of course, it's possible that I've misunderstood and you'd already renewed BEFORE you got any such cards - if so, then please let me know, because it obviously places a different light on the "renewal decision."

To take non-magazine market, but there has been a big report issued by the UK's Financial Services Agency this week about the phrasing of adverts, and what may and may not be claimed about "savings" in the context of what in the UK are regulated products (insurance and mortgages, for example.)

Even in non-regulated products (like, say, hotel rooms), in European Law you can ask the question "Is this your best rate", and if they say yes, and it subsequently turned out there would have been a cheaper rate (through an agent) you can demand a refund - albeit the hassle of taking it through the courts if they initially say "no" puts off most people, but those who have done have generally succeeded. [The UK Court System has a "small claims track" for claims up to a few thousand pounds / dollars, with no awarding of costs no matter who wins - the idea is that people DON'T use lawyers but just argue the facts in front of a magistrate.]

a siamese twin with the heads of ronald and andrea dworkin

I strongly support Steve Parkinson's request for adding "anciliary value" to the subscription-nag-cards. How about using one side of them for a coherent and numbered series of qualitative portrait photos of interesting people from world of technology, past and present? If you did that well and consistent over time then people would even start collecting them. And the current subscribers wouldn't regard those cards as plain paper spam anymore...


Have you ever talked to an actual circulation person about why they do this? I am in circulation. The sad thing is it works. Same with the blow-in cards. Yes they're annoying, I agree, they're the first things I remove from a magazine. But they generate a lot of revenue each issue for the magazine I work for and their renewal rates are great as well.

Same with this direct mail piece you're making fun of. Yes it's ridiculous to me that they work or people "fall" for it but they do to such an extent that cash with order is at an extremely high rate with this sort of approach (as high as 90% despite it saying you don't have to spend money now). The people who respond it also renew at high rates.

My magazine doesn't do what's called renewal at birth (which when you get a renewal notice right after you subscribe), we actually think it's pretty annoying as well.

The very words that you bemoan as lying are actually the very words that work in the piece. People respond to the traditional "sell" type copy and words that you'd think they wouldn't. If we did the same piece with a softer sell and without "lying" (which of course I think is a harsh word for this) then response rates would plummet.

I would urge you to talk to a circulation person. We are generally overworked, underpaid and not appreciated even though we're the ones that get the readers for the things you write and that sales people sell on. Our budgets are the first to be cut although we're expected to do more and more. I think you'd find that there are a lot of things we'd like to do to expand readership that would be less distasteful to you if only we had the budget. And we're generally nice people with dark senses of humor.


I have to echo Steve about non detachable subscription cards but both for subscribers and non subscribers. It's a waste of paper and contributes to so much unintentional littering. I take the train to work in the morn flip through my magazines and spend a quarter of the train ride picking up errant subscription cards then pack them in my bag so I can recycle them when I get to the office. It is both annoying and disturbing that so much paper is wasted. Just look at the floors of Barnes & Noble magazine sections: Subscription cards coat them.


"Is the sort of reader who responds to this kind of insultingly dumb deceit really the target audience for this magazine?"

Yes -- they're the same people who fill out the six renewal letters that come yearly and thus subscribe themselves through 2015.

Backpacker magazine used their Web site to allow subscribers to opt out of the marked increase in renewal mailings (in response to reader complaints) after they were sold back in the 90s. Something similar at Wired might assuage both the marketing department and annoyed subscribers.

I'm also going to name one of the worst offenders: Cook's Illustrated. Their slim publications are regularly wrapped in one to two layers of marketing materials with tear out subscription cards, then wrapped in plastic with an attached renewal letter. That's why I'm not renewing my subscription.

E Lawrence Welch

I completely agree with you about these types of marketing schemes. Anyone with half a brain knows its garbage. However, I'm not sure the collective consumer is ready for this to go away. For example, I have an online retail store - I offer "free shipping". Only a very naive person would think I truly ship for "free". However, my conversion rates increased dramatically when I went to "free shipping". Why? IMHO, the collective consumer is so used to this garbage - they think something is "wrong" when they don't see it. So they still jump at it. Otherwise - why do "sales" still work so well? I think consumers like to believe they're getting a special deal (even though deep down they know it's probably not true) - it makes them feel good so they play along. People like to feel good when they make a transaction. You should probably do a little market testing before you make any changes. ;)

Ian Marshall

I launched a magazine called wend two years ago. We are a literary outdoor adventure travel mag. We don't use blow-ins and our renewal notices are a nice letter thanking our reader for supporting independent media in an email. we get thank you letters all the time.


Wired and Make are the only two magazines that I currently subscribe to. I got fed up with all the extra paper in the other mags and decided that I could get 80% of the content online (sometimes at other places, sometimes at the site of the magazine itself).

The very first thing I do every month when I get my Wired mag is to pull out all of the subscription cards, fold-ins, or extra thick ad pages and put them in the trash. It annoys the crap out of me to have this junk in the mag since I payed for it. I can get almost 100% of the content of Wired online but pay for it anyway for some reason. What does it say that the first interaction I have with it every month is "annoyance"? Just saying.

Make Magazine, on the other hand, usually has only one subscription card. It's straightforward and unobtrusive.


Rolling Stone is the worst! My wife and I started receiving the magazine and we just threw it out figuring it was some sort of mix up. Then, I happened to open one of the renewal notices from them and it was a threatening notice stating that we were 3 months past due on our renewal and we need to pay up now "or else". WTF?!?!

So I get online and find their e-mail contact form. Submit e-mail, wait 4 days, no response. Find their phone number and call Rolling Stone in NYC. They say they farm our renewals and no one there can help me. WTF - you're threatening me with collections, your name is on the bill and no one will help!! Bastard! Continue to call and pester and FINALLY get a phone number for the company that handles the subscriptions. Call them and they say "oh no, we don't turn into collections - it was a free subscription from a purchase at TicketBastard". She tells me to just throw it out and ignore it. It's now 5 months later and we're STILL getting the renewal notices from these bastards.

Sheila Scarborough

Thanks very much for trying to inject some honesty here. I can't believe people fall for these sorts of mailings but in reading the comments, I guess there really is "one born every minute...."

To chime in, I LOATHE blow-in cards but am sometimes willing to use attached ones, and I shred renewal notices until about two months before the subscription is due. Circ guys keep sending 'em, I keep shredding them till I'm good and ready. The renewal rate will be the same, and I know that.

And "Lucky" magazine sent me semi-threatening renewal notices that made it look as though they were from a collection agency. How dumb do they think I am, to think a lapsed subscription goes to a collection agency?


I love Wired, the TV show. There's absolutely no paper cards falling out of the television!

Re: Sheila and her collection notices. I also received such letters (3-4 times) from some magazine that cost $8 for a one-year sub that I paid for BEFORE getting the magazine. THAT was a shady trick that will cause me to think twice next time I sign up.


What is truly infuriating are the magazine subscription outsourcing that allow victims to subscribe to several magazines, often part of a "bonus offer" when purchasing memorabilia, commemorative publications, and so forth. No or little information is provided on who is responsible for your subscription and often the magazine themselves release themselves of any obligation to handle cancellations; when you contact the number on your credit card bill (the only place they must place contact information), there is often a voice activated machine that will handle cancellation, but only after they've failed in "persuading" you to remain a customer by offering more of these "bonuses" or a new subscription offer all together. No live people, no chance to change your mind, and worst of all, if the machine interprets your voice incorrectly, you cannot do a thing to change the machine's mistake.

Because I got burned, I am forced to turn down all magazine/newspaper peddlers and offers unless I initiate contact with the magazine I'm interested in directly. This is why marketing is more often a bane; deceitful or sleazy tactics to get to your dollar.


I had a $10 a year professional rate subscription to Wired. I let the sub. expire, but kept getting the magazines with giant "WE DICIDED TO SEND YOU JUST ONE MORE" on the cover. I still didn't renew.

All of the sudden I started getting calls from a collection agency. They sent my unauthorized $10 charge to a farking collection agency, while still sending me magazines I never ordered. It actually affected my credit rating. Farking assholes.

I'll never read Wired again.


Sadly, Wired is the absolute worst with their marketing and self-promotion. I subscribed for one year last May. By August I was received weekly letters saying that I needed to renew my yearly subscription. And, we all know about the six-thousand subscription cards that fall out when you open the magazine to read it.


Hang on. Wired is the magazine that sent debt-collectors after former subscribers who chose not to renew their subscriptions. I was one of them.

Utter, utter hypocrisy.

bill jones

This, the following could be against the law.
You could find out the editors address and start filling out the blow-ins with that information.
And if you are really mad at them do it for multiple mags.
There is a lot of information out there on the web on "ordering a pizza" for people who are bugging you.

Bill Bickwl

Personally, I don't mind one or two blow-in cards: They make good bookmarks.


I've subscribed to Wired since issue number five - but I'm stopping this year because I can barely tell most of the content from "Special Advertising" nonsense.

Ian Wasp

If magazine marketing antics bother you, toss the unopened envelopes into the recycle bin with the rest of the junk mail. It's not as big a deal as you would like to make it.

The bigger problem is that too many magazine writers and editors excrete tons of badly written crap every day. You want to make some changes? Start by polishing your own poorly crafted prose. You should be ashamed.

Lars Lohn

Back when Byte Magazine still existed, I canceled my subscription because their marketing department threatened me. Nine months before the one year subscription was to end, I started getting renewal notices. The offensive one stated that I could stop the onslaught of renewal solicitations if I were to renew early. In other words, if I didn't give them money immediately, they were going to bury me in junk mail. I canceled and have never subscribed to a magazine since.


I first learned the term "de-boned" in a wired magazine about 10 years ago.

Eric Bostrom

I haven't really been interested in magazines since the internet brought more content rapidly to my fingertips. I think the only magazine I have any interest in anymore is MAKE, and that one is too expensive for how sparse it is.

I used to be into Wired magazine, but the epileptic fluorescent type on translucent paper gave me eye cancer. :(

Ann Carter

Dear latenac (the person who works in magazine circulation). If you're underpaid, overworked, and not appreciated, how about considering Network Marketing with a great company that has a wonderful product. Xango LLC, markets mangosteen juice, and I'd love to have you on my team. I can assure you, you'll be appreciated, and you can be healthier, make some money (lots, depending on how many hours you can devote to it).
Send me an email or call me!!
Ann Carter
(208) 726-9510
I'd really like to talk with you.

John Breedlove

Sorry Chris, you're way off base on this one. You claim all of these are lies, which they're not... so in essence you're lying about them being lies:

Let's look at each point you say is a lie:

* there is no such thing as a "special courtesy rate"

- Sure there is, it's the rate you're offering the person reading the card.

* "guaranteed savings" is a meaningless phrase (and indeed you can often find magazine subscriptions cheaper through an agent--check eBay--or a credit card loyalty program)

- Just because you can find the subscription cheaper elsewhere, doesn't mean those savings in this offer aren't guaranteed. You're paying less than the cover price per issue, correct? So are you guaranteed savings? Yes. Are you guaranteed to save the most through this offer compared to other offers? No. But it doesn't promise that either.

* it makes no difference if you reply by the "reply by" date

- Does the offer say you are required to reply by that date or you won't get the offer price ever? No. It just has "Reply by date" and the date. It's meant to spur people to respond, because the company might rescind the offer past that date, but you certainly have the right to continue the promotion.

* "statement of benefits itemization" are just empty words meant to invoke an invoice

- No, the statement of benefits itemization is listed there to point out all the benefits that you get with this subscription. It's a marketing tool. There's no lying involved, those really are the items you get, and the offer claims those are all benefits. Just because you don't believe they are benefits doesn't mean that it's a lie. I don't see the benefit in buying a car with two dvd players built into it, but that doesn't mean the car ads are lying when they list that option as a benefit of buying the car.

* all those "free" or "included" things are just the regular content that's in the mag for everyone.

- Does the offer say these are exclusive benefits given only to people responding to the offer? No, it says they're benefits of subscribing to the magazine. Which they are. So it's not a lie.

Leave the marketing to the marketing folks, because I get the feeling that if you ran that department your company would be out of business soon.


This sort of thing annoys me too, but I don't know why you subscribed to Model Airplane News via their website. This subscription card at $19.90 for 12 issues is a better deal than $24.95 for 12 issues.

But considering that you say the "save 72% of the newsstand price" claim is also a lie, even though it isn't ($5.99 really is the newsstand price), perhaps things like math aren't your strong suit. You should stick to selling advertising. Pages upon endless pages of advertising...

George Waring

Of course these are come ons and they have been around for years. I've never believed I was a finalist in PCH contest either. I hope you really didn't just figure this all out.

Chris Anderson


Look at the post again. I never said that "72% off the newsstand price" was a lie. I'm pretty good at math. How are you at reading?




Have a look at the big red LIE you put in right next to "4. Save 72% off the newsstand price." That's what I was referring to.


Alan Levine

Is there really a "Jeffrey Stone" at Wired? If so, please tell him we HATE those "urgent" emails about how worried he is about our subscriptions expiring that I get 5 months before I know when it actually expires.

It insults your readership's intelligence to deploy such cheap, transparent tactics. Stop doing these **** moves, and BE DIFFERENT with your readers.


It's bad enough there are so many fashion-tech ads in the opening pages of the newest version I think I got tossed a Vogue mag.

Chris Anderson


The lie was the bogus word "included". You're not really going to defend that, are you?



I got a subscription to Wired, and they kept on sending me renewal notices all throughout the subscription. At the previous commenter said, if I have paid each time Wired told me to renew, I would have had a lifetime subscription!

I really got tired of Wired's deceitful marketing. Canceled subscription. I recommend other Wired subscribers do the same.



Ah-ha! I couldn't see that part at all! The image gets cut off right at the last column if you're viewing the site in 1024x768.


Hah.. Wired. I stopped reading them when after I found out that TWICE they ran stories that bashed Digg in the magazine and NOT ONCE did they note that their parent companies happens to own Digg competitor Reddit.

Sorry, I work for a news organization myself and cannot support a magazine with questionable journalistic practices.



I absolutely, guaran-freaking-tee you that in a couple of years, Chris will sheepishly admit they're doing the same thing as before. And he'll explain it's the reality of publishing, blah blah blah.

There ain't be gonna no revamping of their circulation marketing when they realize that without that crapola, they can't hit their subscription numbers.


Copywriters know what words sell and what don't. And they have the numbers to prove that. Your subscription department will tell you the science behind copy writing results after they use the nice-and-polite subscription cards.

Michael X. Maelstrom


(in terms of my being able to join in the apparent vent outlet provided 'ere)

I don't really have any negative experiences with magazine subscriptions to add, but that's possibly because I've only subscribed to a handful of mags thus far.

Nintendo Power Magazine was my first magazine subscription and it might very well be part of the reason you have to offer something nice/something comparable before I'll bite.

On the subscription card they offered a FREE Dragon Warrior Nintendo cart which was, all things being equal, to arrive at Xmas.

Despite my trepidation at the "*limited quantities" "*cart may not be in stock" *may not be as shown" et legal ass-covering-cetera, I received my Magazine and my free Dragon Warrior cart in time for Xmas.

The was bloody awesome.

It arrived a day or 2 early and I actually put it under the tree and waited to open it Xmas morning.

Why I couldn't really sufficiently explain or psychoanalyze but I suspect it was half putting off opening it in case it was disappointing and half looking forward to opening it with my other presents.

As it turned out it wasn't a second rate pawned off game/con-job, it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable games I'd play.

Though that might have been slightly influenced by my enjoying it that bit more because I perceived it as an "Xmas present".

I've loved Nintendo ever since.

And Dragon Warrior ultimately (critically) would rank as my 3rd fave NES RPG cart of all time just behind Zelda and Final Fantasy.

In terms of the entire experience (pulling out maps+guide+magazine+xmas present+gameplay) it ranks #2 just behind Zelda.

I wish the marketers would analyze THAT to understand how treating your customers to a (well thought out/quality) "present" can pay your company back in the long run in ways that not only recoup any expenses but insure a loyal returning LIFETIME fan of your company and product(s)

INSTEAD of this apparent current trend where they're focusing on CON-GAME/quicksandbuck oriented sales techniques.

I know this will stun some readers, because we suspect there are plants everywhere on the blogosphere (I get the feeling half of the posters here work for Wired competing magazines for example) but I don't work for Nintendo, they EARNED my loyalty and any dividend it may pay, such as positive word of mouth and a returning customer.

I mention it for this reason because they earned it, and I mention it because there are apparently marketers/sales people reading here and I would like you to consider that the con-job quick(sand)dollar oriented sales-techniques discussed here and whether they "work" or not (in suckering in short-term customers) is almost entirely beside the point.

That's TelemarketThink.

It obviously works (short-term) but it is imo only of any practical use to shady operations that have no longevity. That's why those con-techniques are streamlined/employed/developed -by- Telemarketers in the first place. They don't care that they're destroying their company/product's reputation as they have no reputation or company.

That's why TelemarketThink is all about smash'n'grab con-job techniques because the telemarketer is out for themselves and their next paycheque ONLY. It may work and be good for them, but it's _horrid_ for any and every company they represent however.

Instead, I would submit that the reputable/in it for the longterm companies ought be asking not "what techniques can I employ to sucker in some new subscribers or con/scare old ones into renewing"

but instead (or at least in addition to) why not try,

"what can I do FOR the customer to insure that they will be happy and will want to return?"

Am I asking for something as good as a free game with my next magazine subscription? well I'd be lying if I said no, yes actually, I'd love that :) the bar has been set, but it's not actually about the 'free game' per se what I believe I was responding to was the thought that went into it(that it originated in marketthink I have little doubt, but that is irrelevant, a good action is a good action, the bottom line is that someone somewhere was thinking about it from the _customers_ perspective, what would make them feel good? became the company's focus.

It may seem a trivial distinction but I personally believe it makes all the difference in the world.

Rather than thinking about how they could con a customer they concluded that giving the customer a well thought out present/treating them as family might, was the way to go.

and consequently as a result of that inverted gamblethink a lifelong personal connection was made.

And I doubt I'm the only one to feel that way.

My 2.



don't you find it obnoxious,when 50% of the magazine is advertising?
TV watching is similar,you pay for the TV,pay for electricity and have to listen to all that lying hype.

You are paying the shipping of the junk,adding to pollution,and have to dispose of it.

Hazel Atkins

You edit a magazine that uses the exact same method (lies) to sell on the newsstand. A recent issue coverline exclaims: "What went wrong with Iraq (Hint: Blame the Geeks)".

As if that's true.

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The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

Notes and sources for the book

FREE was available in all digital forms--ebook, web book, and audiobook--for free shortly after the hardcover was published on July 7th. The ebook and web book were free for a limited time and limited to certain geographic regions as determined by each national publisher; the unabridged MP3 audiobook (get zip file here) will remain free forever, available in all regions.

Order the hardcover now!