Free magazines for over a year now...?

So, last year about this time, I started getting The Rolling Stone in the mail. Followed shortly by Men’s Fitness and Outside. These are all magazines I’ve bought at stores once or twice over the years, but I’ve never subscribed to. In fact, I haven’t subscribed to a magazine at all since I let my SPIN subscription lapse in 1999 or so.

I asked my aunt, who used to gift me Smithsonian Magazine once or twice in the past, but she said they didn’t come from her. A Facebook poll also came up with nothing – these aren’t a gift, as far as I can tell.

I’m into the second year now, still getting these magazines every month (more frequently for RS), and have never received a bill. They have my name and address on the front, so it’s not like I’m getting the neighbor’s mail by mistake.

Does anybody know what’s going on here?

In recent years, I’ve had two magazines (Rolling Stone and Popular Mechanics) start showing up, under my name. I didn’t sign up for a subscription to either of them, nor did anyone give them to me as a gift.

What I’ve been able to piece together is that some magazines now “prospect” for subscribers, probably by purchasing mailing lists of subscribers of other magazines. They send a complimentary subscription (for, say, a year), then, when the subscription is about to lapse, they send out a renewal notice. They hope that you’ve enjoyed the freebie magazine enough to actually pony up for a paid subscription. In the case of Rolling Stone, it was a good call, as I renewed the subscription. In the case of Popular Mechanics, I don’t find it interesting enough to pay for, and I expect it’ll stop coming soon.

We got an entire year of Readers Digest and National Geographic (though not at the same time) and didn’t subscribe to them. We did subscribe to RD once about 7 or 8 years ago.

So I thinking maybe kenobi 65’s theory about prospecting may be the key.

That was my theory too. I figured I’d at least get a “Your subscription is running out! Time to renew!” card eventually, if not a bill for the whole year. Now that they’re entering the second year, though, I’m starting to wonder.

In any case, advertisers pay rates based on circulation; it’s less important to them than you might think whether the circulation is paid or not.

So even while the magazine is hoping you will sign up for that second year, they get to count you as a subscriber during the first year, thus padding their circulation numbers.

That part is a little weird, yeah. Check the mailing label on the magazine – the label will usually have a subscription expiration date on it.

This is key. I mean, you buy one Hot Rod at the store and it’s $6…you can get 12 issues delivered to your home for $8. Very hard to make much money doing that once you consider postage, printing (even though the subscriber version is on cheaper paper), etc. They want as many subscribers as possible so they can charge more for advertising, period…in that way, it’s just like over-the-air TV. Free content, but they need the ratings so they can charge enough for ads to produce the content and make a profit.

I get a number of magazines for free…you can find places online where it’s easy to sign up.

There’s an excellent discussion of this by Frederik Pohl in The Way the Future Was where he talks about the time he worked for Popular Science. He had to write a long series of letters which were sent to anyone whose subscription to the magazine was coming up for renewal. There would be several letters reminding the subscriber to renew several months before the subscription expired. Then there would be many letters afterwards, each of which told the subscriber that they wanted him as a reader so much that they had extended the subscription by several months. Each of those letters would use a slightly different style. Some were humorous, some pleading, some claimed to come from different departments of the publishing company. The series consisted of seventeen different letters. Often a subscriber would finally be persuaded by one of the last letters to re-subscribe. The publishers could do this because the advertising was what supported the magazine. As long as they could keep someone on the list of subscribers, no matter how long it had been since they had paid the magazine anything, it was worthwhile.

I note that a couple of the commenters said they don’t subscribe to magazines yet still get these free ones.

One strategy might be to get a target list from some non-magazine source (say, shopping or charitable giving) and then cross-check it against magazine-subscription lists and identify people who do spend money but have not (yet, anyway) spent any on magazines. These people could be considered “virgin territory.”

If I were a publisher and had a budget for freebies I’d send some of mine that way.

That explains those issues of “Men’s Health” I’ve been receiving for the last year.

When we started receiving one of the parenting magazines in the mail, I was able to piece together that it came with a purchase we made from some website.

I got a year of Field & Stream out of nowhere. Eventually I found out it was because I’d reserved campsites on-line, and the concessionaire (I believe it was ReserveAmerica) sold their mailing list.

I used to get VIBE magazine in the 90s.
I would’ve rather had subs to Pop Mechanics or Pop Science.

I have had at least two unsolicited Rolling Stone subscriptions over the last ten years. The first time, I was upset by a series of unceasing envelopes resembling bills for my subscription - but it was merely an offer to continue for the subscription fee. I would return the envelopes to sender and the magazines stopped.

So I re-asked this question on Facebook yesterday (I asked once when I started getting them, with no answer), and it turns out a friend of mine I haven’t spoken to in a while got me those subscriptions for free by taking surveys online. (She’s recently become a “deals junky” and has a ton of free women’s magazines now herself, in addition to a bunch of other free or cheap doodads.) Looks like they expire in January '15.

So, mystery solved, I guess. I don’t know why she didn’t just tell me from the get-go.

Me too. Those are 2 of the best mags in circulation IMHO.

This was my thought. I get free subscriptions from the deal sites and sometimes send them to friends (I ask, they know). You have to keep looking, but you can get a lot of major magazines for free with no obligation or credit card information. Some of the deals they find can be interesting. I just got a free case of paper from Staples :slight_smile:

Yeah, this is the key to it all. It used to be more of a fine line between a magazine’s circulation vs. its paid circulation because, for the magazine publisher, advertisers don’t really discriminate too much about one versus the other, numbers are numbers. Just like a TV show’s ratings were ratings, regardless of how much a commercial ultimately increased a products sales, that’s after the fact (i.e. after the ad fees have been paid).

However, magazines are the epitome of ‘old media’, second only to newspapers in their declining circulation rates (because of the internet). Consequently increasing circulation numbers via unpaid subscriptions (by which they can still increase their ad rates) has become more and more necessary. A semi-sleazy aspect is that they particularly target elderly people because they’re more likely to feel obliged to pay for something they’ve been getting even when they didn’t ask for it.