The first letter came without a threat last May, in a plain white envelope.
It was from the subscription department at the New Yorker with a return address in Boone, Iowa. I felt like one of those cowboys around the campfire lamenting the origin of their salsa: my New Yorker magazine comes from… Iowa?
If there was a terrorist plot against effete rural liberals, a renewal notice from the New Yorker, postmarked from a town named after the symbol of rugged frontier justice would be just about right.
I shook the envelope. Something awful, like anthrax or Sweet&Low might pour out. Above my name, in caps, “EXP FEB 13.” Even if this renewal notice was legit, my subscription didn’t expire for ten months.
Either the terrorists would have to try harder, or I’d hear from the New Yorker again. I tossed the unopened letter in my desk.
Within a few weeks I got another friendly reminder, same return address. This time I googlemapped Boone, Iowa. No magazine fulfillment center. I thought about staking out the Boone post office, waiting for a dandy with a top hat and a monocle to unlock P.O. Box 37685.
Wait. Why does Boone, Iowa have 37,685 post office boxes? The population, according to the 2010 census, was 12,635. I’d be damned if I opened that letter. Something wasn’t right.
The third notice came from a different P.O. Box, three doors down from the old one. It had the word “REMINDER” in all caps, above my address. Kind of classy, like the guy at the opera who coughs and stares at your crotch to let you know you forgot to zip.
I had 33 issues left, a little over nine months of New Yorkers. I ignored their request.
I admit that I am easily annoyed. I’m taking pills for it now, but they are obviously not working. It tightened my gut that Condé Nast, the publisher of the New Yorker, was rubbing its hands together, wanting me to feed the beast.
I understand beasts need to be fed. I throw money at open mouths too. I’m offended to be asked to throw money at Boone, Iowa in May for a New Yorker subscription that runs out in February, that’s all.
I also resent anyone trying to con me into paying far in advance for goods or services yet to be rendered. That’s called ‘playing the float’.
Could my highbrow magazine be attempting to shave a few issues off if I renewed early? No… The New Yorker would never commit such a low-down offense–though there have been legal settlements in the past for ‘short sheeting’ subscribers in the periodical biz.
What they are unquestionably guilty of is negligence. The New Yorker farms subscriptions out to CoMag, a company, until recently co-owned by the publisher of the New Yorker, Conde Nast, along with archrival mega-publisher Hearst.
Hearst and Conde Nast sold their distribution monster to a third party, Jim Pattison Co.. Pattison already owned NewsGroup, which distributes 1.5 billion periodicals per year.
Picture (an as yet, uncalculated) huge percentage of all the print magazines published in the U.S. and Canada, throw them into a pile of glossy glued bindings, and run them all through the same huge stainless steel distribution funnel.
Publishers shove the stuff in the big end, they wash their hands, you pull it out the small end.
You can’t blame me for being annoyed and suspicious. No one is washing my hands.
The New Yorker is a top tier magazine. Erudite cartoons pepper pithy reviews; insightful, vetted commentary is quoted worldwide; their exasperating feature articles beat a topic with a stick, soak it in quotes, hang it out to dry and then fold it like origami. It’s a thing of annoying beauty.
Why would this bastion of intellectualism farm out their subscription service to a company that cajoles, pokes, prods, threatens, and lies to a loyal subscriber?
It’s even worse that they can shrug their shoulders and say they had no part in it.
Yep, they lie. I received at least three reminders with the words “Last Chance.” (Obviously not). Two others said “Final Notice.” White ones, manila ones, blue ones. One was emblazoned with a huge militaristic “DEADLINE EXTENDED.” Several featured a Stars & Stripes stamp. Is there a battle going on? Is it my patriotic duty to renew?
Within the past few weeks, as my subscription was truly about to expire, their tactics changed: they wanted me to think I’d already renewed, and that I just needed to send in the “Confirmation Notice: Enclosed.”
Last week the Crooked Tree Coffeehouse here in Great Falls, Montana received their January 28 issue. I did not.
Had the New Yorker given up?
A few days later, I got my copy, with a thick paper overlay: LAST ISSUE ALERT. The attached “Pay me later” prepaid postcard offered only one alternative for last-minute renewal “$99.99 for 47 issues. 64% off Cover Price!”
I was only mildly tempted.
On Thursday, another issue arrived. Surprise. My “last issue” wasn’t the last issue after all.
It’s not the last issue I have with the New Yorker. Or is it?