3rd Parth Magazine Subscriptions - What's The Catch?
January 28, 2007 11:04 PM   Subscribe

Magazine subscriptions for cheap/free... what's the catch?

I've noticed third party companies/websites selling popular magazine subscriptions for fractions of what they should cost, sometimes the subscriptions are free. What's the catch?
posted by thankyoumuchly to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Magazines can charge their advertisers more when they've got larger subscription numbers. They're often willing to give subscriptions away for free just to bump up their numbers.

(This is also the model used by the free alternative weekly papers -- they get all of their revenue from advertisers, but they have to have their circulation numbers verified by an outside auditor.)

My husband has gotten us a few freebie subscriptions via this blog, including a guilty-pleasure subscription to "Star" under our cat's name.
posted by lisa g at 11:12 PM on January 28, 2007

Often you get automatically subscribed for a year if you fail to cancel within the free period. And they can send you other marketing crap, Fingerhut or whathaveyou. I've signed up for these offers a number of times with no ill effects. Just make a note to cancel the subscription on xx/xx/xxxx!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:29 PM on January 28, 2007

The bad guys get all your personal info.
posted by oncogenesis at 11:29 PM on January 28, 2007

When you're a publisher, you're always looking for higher circulation numbers. Revenue from subscriptions is really piss in the bucket for funds compared to the circulation stats that you give to advertisers, who pay more for higher-circulating mags. This is often why when you unsubscribe from something like the newspaper, they just keep sending it anyway--it's worth taking the money hit to say that you're still sending it out. The newspaper I worked for was audited once and got in a lot of trouble for that practice. The actual cost of printing and sending a magazine is around $3-4 a year--paying "full price" for a subscription is completely stupid.

This is where people who offer free or greatly reduced subscriptions comes in. Advertisers will buy these magazine subscriptions in blocks of 1,000 or 10,000 and basically give these to you so the magazine will cut them a deal (discounted ad rates, free page, whatever) Incidentally, this is also how places like Publisher's Clearing House work--they buy the bulk subscriptions and mark them up so it seems like you're getting a good deal compared to a regular subscription.

When these places take your information, though, the reason that they take all the occupational information is to place advertising to eyes of people who are in those fields (never mind that almost everyone who signs up does not put their correct industry.) That way, the advertise that they work with get higher circ numbers and can charge more for their ads! In all likelihood, you won't get spam with these places, but you will get more mail than you asked for. E-mail actually tends to be alright; they only have you on a listserv of new offers.
posted by Hot Like Your 12V Wire at 11:41 PM on January 28, 2007

What "Hot Like Your 12V Wire" said.

For many publications, the shady practice is charging for it. Take a typical fashion mag or computer mag. They're at least 60% advertising, and most of the articles are just repurposed PR or product reviews.

The only reason why they charge for the magazine at all is to send a "pricing signal" that they have worthwhile information.

This does not apply to some highbrow magazines, but you rarely see those offered in the deals you mention.
posted by brevity at 12:18 AM on January 29, 2007

Unfortunately, most of the firms selling highly discounted magazines have deservedly bad reputations. And I'm dealing with one of them, rather unhappily, at the moment.

I took a chance on magsforless.com on 11/26 of last year for a super deal which has so far not resulted in my receiving a single magazine: $31.50 for 3 years of OUTSIDE, 4 years of BACKPACKER, 2 years of MOTHER JONES, and 3 years of SEED magazine. (I found out about them through a magazine-broker aggregator I found via google at magazinepricesearch.com, and then I used a coupon-code I think I got at the [excellent] dealcoupon.com)

According to magsforless, monthly subscriptions take 8-10 weeks to become activated, and I've just cross the 8 week period. VISA tells me that I have 12 weeks to dispute a charge.

I've read online from many frustrated, disgusted consumers that these subscription brokers (including the one I chose) don't provide the magazines offered and often reply to emails in ways to make customers wait past the 12 week period beyond which they cannot dispute their credit card charges, then keep the money. Sometimes they say that the mags take 12-14 weeks to come (as opposed to what their site FAQs say). Sometimes they say that the magazines rejected the subscription because of allegedly missing info and the brokers have just resubmitted it (necessitating another wait of months).

Before placing my order I knew about the possibility that I'd never get a single magazine, but I've been careful to watch for the 12-week VISA dispute period. If I'm careful, the worst that will happen is that the broker has earned a few months of float on my money.

Based on the reports of others and on my own ongoing personal experience, I'd urge anyone to be particularly careful. I'm planning to email magsforless this week to find out abouut my subscription, but I intend to cancel/dispute my bill with my credit card in another 2-3 weeks, within the 12-week window.
posted by skywhite at 5:10 AM on January 29, 2007

Some companies also bet on the x% of all people who are just too busy or lazy to stop a subscription. Once they 'got you', it's easy to procrastinate about cancelling. Happened to me too, and then I had to buy another year.
posted by ideaguy at 5:55 AM on January 29, 2007

The reason for charging for subscriptions is that if you gave the publication away for free, you have to prove that the people you give it to are actually interested in reading it.

Some magazines will give you free or almost-free subscriptions if you are one of the people their advertisers are after. e.g. eWeek and similar publications will give you a free subscription if you are a decision-maker on the purchasing of computers for a business. You have to fill out a questionairre/survery on the nature of the business, your role in it, and the amount spent on computers -- this gives them evidence to prove to advertisers that the people getting those free subscriptions are the people they want to reach and not just padding the numbers.
posted by winston at 6:28 AM on January 29, 2007

There really is no "catch" with regards to free subscriptions to magazines. They're known as "sponsored subscriptions" within the industry, and the theory is that it would cost the publisher less money in the long run to give you the magazine for a year for free (and you are more likely to renew after that year) than spend the money (advertising, etc.) trying to get you to subscribe outright.

There are several free subscription sites, and they only require your name, address, and an email. (Naturally, you would use a throwaway email specifically for these sites.) No credit card information is required. The magazine publisher (and the "sponser") are also getting your mailing address, which will likely increase your postal junk mail, which isn't a big deal to most people.

I love getting magazines and never pay for any subscriptions -- you'd be surprised what you can get for free. (The most prized being free subscriptions to TV GUIDE that appear every now and then.)

There are several sites and forums that track these offers -- a good place to start would be the SlickDeals.net "Free Magazines" forum.
posted by jca at 6:54 AM on January 29, 2007

I once got a "free" subscription to Maxim from some website. I totally forgot about it, then years later Maxims started getting shipped to my PO box. Very strange.
posted by delmoi at 7:08 AM on January 29, 2007

I think most of them are scams. I've signed up for a couple of them with accurate information, and never saw a single magazine.

posted by drstein at 9:25 AM on January 29, 2007

The ones on eBay sell subs at insane prices and if you look at the ratings, most of them are > 99% positive. I got a few from there, so I don't think they're scams.
posted by reformedjerk at 11:04 AM on January 29, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you all for sharing your experiences/knowledge! I never knew about some of the angles from which companies approach these deals.

Some of you have recommended good "deal" sites for cheap/free subscriptions (i.e., dealnews.com & slickdeals.net). Can anyone else suggest cheap/free magazine subscription sites that have yielded positive results (the magazine(s) actually arrived, no noticeable surplus of junk mail after the purchase, etc.)?
posted by thankyoumuchly at 3:01 PM on January 29, 2007

Can anyone else suggest cheap/free magazine subscription sites that have yielded positive results (the magazine(s) actually arrived, no noticeable surplus of junk mail after the purchase, etc.)?

I bought a subscription for someone as a gift this past Christmas through amazon.com. The subscription began five weeks later. No problems.

When I was at university in the US I found the lowest prices I could find through something called University Subscription service (which appears to be this site), whose offers were stuffed in the bags of the campus Barnes & Noble. Best price I could find for The New Yorker, so good in fact that years later I popped into a local university bookstore, found a subscription card from them as I'd hoped, and successfully used the subscription card, although I believe I had to assert that I was a student to complete the order.
posted by skywhite at 5:27 PM on January 29, 2007

I think the best compromise is to buy from the magazine brokers on eBay. At least you have some feedback ratings to go by. You can also compare the brokers to get a good price from an honest broker.
posted by spock at 6:47 PM on January 29, 2007

What's a magazine? Do they use tubes?
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:48 PM on January 29, 2007

I think the best compromise is to buy from the magazine brokers on eBay.

eBay magazine brokers all say it takes 10-12 weeks for subscriptions to start, and the majority of feedbacks are from people who have not yet received their subscriptions -- something to keep in mind.

As a follow-up to my previous posts, I emailed magsforless 10 days ago to determine the status of my subscription order, and when they failed to reply I disputed/canceled the 10-week-old charge with VISA.
posted by skywhite at 6:21 AM on February 7, 2007

Response by poster: Again, thank you all for the great comments!
posted by thankyoumuchly at 11:14 AM on February 14, 2007

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