Younger Lovers
Daddy and Mommy

Magazine Hell

Everyone with a product to sell is looking to make a profit. The time-honored way of doing that is to identify a market need and fill it. What astonishes Crabby Old Lady, day in and day out, is how poorly many corporations do that, placing as many irritations and impediments in the way of the consumer as possible.

Take magazines, for example…

Crabby likes magazines. They keep her abreast of developments about her topics of interest, provide commentary on issues she cares about and many of her favorite thinkers publish regularly in magazines.

In addition, magazines are convenient. The stories are, compared to books, short and can be read through in odd, free moments. They don’t weigh much, they take up little space, and unlike the computer on which Crabby reads local U.S. and international newspapers, they are portable. They can be jammed in a handbag to read on the subway or stuck in her back pocket to fill time when she is forced to wait.

Lately, however, the difficulty in reading magazines threatens to surpass their usefulness.

Blow-in cards have been around a long time, but they have become more numerous, falling out from between the pages, sometimes in a flurry, and more than once, Crabby has had to retrieve them from the floor of a subway car – ick – and carry them around until she finds a trash bin.

Bound-in cards are their own kind of annoyance, making it impossible for the next page to lay open flat for the reading the magazine was intended. To tear it out creates more trash to be toted around, or piled up on the sofa needing to be picked up later.

How many trees does it cost, in addition to the magazine itself, to supply all the blow-in and bound-in subscription cards in every issue of every magazine sold in the U.S. every week and month? Crabby wonders. Wouldn’t one, in the front of a magazine do the trick?

And how about those full-size ads, sometimes several pages long, printed on heavy stock? No page turning is possible without ripping them out which invariably tears the surrounding text pages.

Another form of advertising - essentially an entire magazine of its own usually on the topic of health or to promote business and travel to another country - is almost always inserted in the middle of a story. What is insidious about these is they are designed to look similar to the layout of the magazine so that it is nearly impossible to find the continuation of the article with any ease. By the time Crabby has thumbed through its 30 or 40 pages, she has to go back to pick up the thread of what she was reading.

And although they are not a barrier to Crabby’s enjoyment of a magazine, she can’t figure out the point of perfume samples in those little foldovers. Perhaps Crabby’s nose is not as discerning as other folks’, but they all smell alike to her. Maybe it has something to do with placing scent on paper, where it was not intended to be used.

When Crabby’s most recent issue of Vanity Fair arrived a week or so ago, it would not open flat at any place in the magazine. As she has frequently done for many years, Crabby tore out each ad before checking the table of contents for stories of interest and this time, before tossing them, she counted the number of individual pages – blow-ins, bound-ins and full-page heavy-stock: thirty-seven.

Can all this trash possibly be profitable for advertisers? Or worth it to the corporate owners of magazines to so annoy their readers? Crabby Old Lady can’t be the only one who tears out all the ads without looking at them and she approaches her magazine reading these days with a sigh.

To facilitate a little contentment in her old age, Crabby is looking to reduce the number of irritants and she will now be evaluating the content of her magazines against the exasperation level. How many will she give up?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Not ten minutes after posting this story, Crabby discovered this new piece from Fast Company. Now if they would just apply their advice to their own magazine...


I used to subscribe to magazines, but finally got tired of all the crap that came with them. I've also often wondered about the perfume samples, etc...don't they pose a problem for people with allergies?

I like the way Crabby Old Lady writes, and I'm a fan. I just wanted to mention. :)


Well, Feith certainly has it right. Those perfume samples can ruin a magazine for me, as some scents linger after the offending card has been removed. Sometimes they just make me sneeze; other times they give me a terrible headache. And Crabby, that's how I tell the difference between them; there's Eau d'Achoo and Eau d'Advil.

I've given up on magazines altogether. As limited as time is, it's become a choice between books or magazines. I've opted for books. To me, nothing beats a good novel! I'll just stay in the dark on all that's current in the news. And on the store shelves!!!

Great article, Crabby! The only magazine I still subscribe to is National Geographic and even this one is succumbing to ads! There are a few freebies that come in, but the rest are too expensive and have little of interest left after the ads, as you established.

My favorite is when I'm reading in the tub and a bunch of blow-in ads fall into the water with me becoming soggy paper lilypads. Even so, I'll never give up my beloved New Yorker, and I just--rather foolishly--subscribed to three more, thereby increasing the amount of junk mail I will receive, too. Oh, and to answer your question, yes, it's worth it to the companies who advertise. As with Spam, the percentage of people who respond can be quite low, and still make it financially viable.

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