What Mainstream Publishers Don't Want You to Know About Door-to-Door Magazine Sales

That kid at your door with a magazine order form will tell you a story -- part sad, part hopeful. The truth will be infinitely worse than you can imagine.

In the Ramada Inn, across I-10 from Ikea, dozens of young sales agents spill out of vans and head for the first-floor conference room. They're in their late teens and early twenties, tired from a long day of selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door, but excited about the money they think they're going to get.

In the conference room, a line of ­middle-aged managers sit behind folding tables and count the stacks of receipts and cash their agents place before them. It's a ton of money. The crews hit Houston in late February, it's near the end of March now and it's been a lucrative stay. Houston is always a windfall.

It's been a tough hop for this caravan of sales crews, though. Winding their way down from California, they lost a few agents. Two were arrested in Albuquerque after they allegedly forced their way into the home of an elderly couple and beat them to death, raping the wife first. A few weeks later, another agent allegedly raped a woman in Claremont, California, so he got picked up, too. Then, in West Texas, a van flipped, killing one agent and injuring three others. That's seven agents out of commission. That's about a $2,800 loss per day.

Crystal Mahathy was working at an Arby's when she was recruited to sell subscriptions.
Crystal Mahathy was working at an Arby's when she was recruited to sell subscriptions.
Rick Senner, who was driving the SUV that plunged off a cliff and killed two crew members, celebrates Jesus Christ's birth with the lighting of special frankincense.
Rick Senner, who was driving the SUV that plunged off a cliff and killed two crew members, celebrates Jesus Christ's birth with the lighting of special frankincense.

After they turn in their cash and receipts, two agents, a pudgy girl and a lanky guy, hit the parking lot for a smoke. Two Houston Press reporters are there, observing. Without knowing they're talking to reporters, the agents walk over and ask for rolling papers. When asked what they're doing in town, the agents explain their job and how much they love it. It's a blast, they say. You lie all day to sell subscriptions, and you unwind afterward with some smoke. You tell the customers that you live a few streets over, that you go to the local school and play on the soccer team, that you just sold subscriptions to their neighbor, and the idiots buy it because by now you've got it down to a science. And on to the next town. And the next.

In the eight months the Press investigated door-to-door magazine sales across the country, the industry has seen at least three murders, one rape, two attempted rapes, one stabbing, one attempted murder, one vehicle fatality and one attempted abduction of a 13-year-old girl.

Interviews with former agents reveal a constant party atmosphere where agents have easy access — often thanks to their managers — to drugs. The agents come primarily from two populations: reprobates who need to leave wherever they are fast, and vulnerable kids from unstable families who believe that hopping into a van full of strangers is better than what awaits them at home.

Crystal Mahathy is an example of the latter. In 2000, the 17-year-old crossed paths with a Texas-based magazine crew manager named Rick Senner.

Rick Senner got his start working for Russell Wood, one of the industry's biggest names. Senner started as an agent under Wood, who's based out of the hinterland of Pilot Point, Texas, about 50 miles north of Plano. Senner worked his way up from agent to crew manager, and later left to start his own company. When he's not on the road, Senner is with his wife and daughter at their home in Gainesville, just a few miles from Pilot Point.

Senner's crew was working Mahathy's hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana, when he spotted her in an Arby's and figured she would make a good agent. Senner is six-one, blond, handsome and has the kind of confidence that allowed him to shrug off things like the warrant for his arrest out of Phoenix, where he was busted for weed and was a no-show at court. He offered a way out of Fort Wayne, and a way out of Mahathy's mixed-up family life. But first, because she was under 18, Senner wanted her mother to sign a permission slip. Because her mother is illiterate, Mahathy got an older cousin to sign for it instead. With that taken care of, she was able to hit the road. She made money for Senner, who made money for his boss, who in turn made money for major-league publishers.

Like many agents, the teenage Mahathy didn't know what she was getting herself into and how hard it was going to be to get herself out of it. Senner and his colleagues have a great sales pitch, and truth doesn't always close the deal.

Agents are often driven across the country by managers whose driver's licenses have been suspended or revoked. And while the industry's trade group says it encourages member companies to conduct background checks, the crews are overflowing with agents with open warrants, extensive criminal histories and probation terms that prohibit them from leaving their home state. Since its inception in 1987, the National Field Selling Association has not only done nothing to clean up the crews, it has lobbied against proposed legislation that would implement the most basic of safety regulations and prohibit the hiring of underage employees.

While mainstream publishers and their trade group, the Magazine Publishers Association, say door-to-door sales account for a minuscule percentage of annual sales, this seemingly small percentage still translates into millions. It's profitable enough to publishers like Condé Nast, Reader's Digest and others that they still consider door-to-door sales a worthwhile venture in the 21st century. And without publishers' participation, the industry would cease to exist. Which means, quite simply, that publishers have decided the collateral damage is worth the boost in circulation.

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*** WARNING *** Dedicated Memorial Parents Group: DO NOT ALLOW door-to-door salesmen into your home!!! LOCK Your Door And Call The Police!!! We have documented 89 deaths and over 400 criminal felony cases. www.travelingsalescrews.info www.dedicatedmemorial.org www.magazinesalescrews.info Facebook: Beware of Traveling Door-to-door Sales Crews https://www.facebook.com/pages/Beware-of-Traveling-Door-to-Door-Sales-Crews/100395130009145 Parent Watch: www.parentwatch.org www.magcrew.com The Scumbag Criminals: National field Selling Association President: Sandra Hall http://nfsa.com Magazine Publishers of America President: Nina Link http://www.magazine.org

 
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