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.

When magazines decide how much a page of advertising will cost, media buyers convert that into a ratio of cost-per-thousand.

Say the publisher of a magazine with a circulation of 1 million copies prices each page of advertising at $50,000. That's a cost-per-thousand of $50. Say the circulation jumps 50,000, which brings total circulation to 1.05 million. If the publisher keeps the cost-per-thousand at $50, that raises the single advertising page rate to $52,500 ($50 x 1,050).

If the magazine sells 100 pages of advertising per issue, then the total value of the 50,000 jump would be $250,000 per issue. ($2,500 per page x 100 pages). If the magazine runs 24 issues a year, that's 24 x $250,000 — $6 million, from an extra 50,000 copies.

James Scribner runs Team-Xtreme, which cleared orders through the late Robert Spruiell. "Scribs" said the media only focuses on the "negative" side of the industry.
James Scribner runs Team-Xtreme, which cleared orders through the late Robert Spruiell. "Scribs" said the media only focuses on the "negative" side of the industry.

That's enough incentive to keep using sales agents. Of course, publishers don't want to be linked to any of the kids knocking on the doors, so the system has been arranged to keep everyone at arm's length.

It works like this: Agents knocking on doors turn their sales receipts in to their managers, who send them off to clearinghouses. A clearinghouse submits the subscription orders to the publishers, who then mail out the magazines. The clearinghouses choose which traveling sales crew companies to work with; the heads of those companies usually have their managers do the hiring. This arrangement allows the publishers, clearinghouses and road crew company heads to pretend they have nothing to do with the kids pushing the publishers' product.

The real blessing for everyone, though, comes in a labor loophole: Even though a crew's agents ride in the same vehicle, are dropped off in the same neighborhoods, are returned at night to the same hotels and have commissions held by managers who dole out the cash when an agent wants to buy lunch or alcohol or a new pair of shoes, labor laws have allowed company owners to hire their agents as "independent contractors." Since the crews rarely have solicitation permits, if they are arrested for selling without a license or for any other matter, they are instructed to tell authorities they are not in fact employed by the company they're traveling with.

The companies that run the crews primarily hire through newspaper advertisements promising big money and free travel. The ads are generally placed when the crew hits a town; the prospective hires meet a crew manager at a hotel and are usually hired on the spot. Although they're promised about $500 a week, their money goes on "the book," a mysterious ledger kept by crew managers. Often, agents will start out in the red, already owing managers hotel rent money. Managers also dock pay for canceled orders or other so-called infractions.

Agents sell from a "hot-list," laminated brochures of magazine titles, usually provided by clearinghouses, that agents show their Joneses. The agents work on a point system; the hot-lists show the points each agent would get for a particular subscription. For example, a 2006 hot-list from the National Publishers Exchange, one of the country's largest clearinghouses, shows 40 points for Reader's Digest and 80 points for GQ. According to the titles on the hot-list, the agents were selling for — and NPE was clearing orders for — Condé Nast, Disney Publishing, Meredith and others. (While the list also includes titles from Hearst, a company spokesman told the Press, "A written directive was sent in January 2007, but most clearinghouses were alerted to our policy against accepting orders from door-to-door 'crews' years earlier." A Meredith spokesperson said the company de-authorized door-to-door sales in March 2007.)

Every link in the chain holds the door-to-door sales information close to the vest. Citing proprietary interests, publishers will not disclose their clearinghouses, and clearinghouses will not disclose their contracted magazine crews. Since there are only a handful of major clearinghouses in the country, publishers would have you believe that, after years in the industry, higher-ups are too incompetent to have figured out who their competitors clear through.

National Publishers Exchange was a member of the National Field Selling Association (NFSA), the trade group for door-to-door magazine sales companies. In 2006, the association stopped disclosing its membership, so it's difficult to tell if NPE is still a member.

The NFSA will not say why it decided to keep membership private, but that's not surprising for a trade association that doesn't even have its own office — instead, mail and phone calls are directed to the Philadelphia office of Fernley & Fernley, which prides itself on being "America's First Association Management Company."

And while Ellen Buckley handles preliminary media calls for the NFSA, she doesn't seem to know a whole lot, mostly because she wears a lot of hats. While she may be listed as the "director" of the NFSA, she is also, for example, Administrative Director of the North American Horticultural Supply Association, which means she doesn't just field calls about mag crews, but could probably also help with questions about mixed perennials and potting soil.

So for tough questions, Buckley refers reporters to the NFSA's Washington, D.C., attorney, Dan Smith. Smith has lobbied for the group, most notably in 2000, when legislators proposed the federal Traveling Sales Crew Protection Act. The bill was a response to a 1999 wreck in Wisconsin that killed seven agents and paralyzed another. It occurred when the 20-year-old driver of the van — whose Iowa license had expired and who previously had his Wisconsin driving privileges suspended — saw a police car and panicked. Not wanting to get busted again, he tried to change seats with a passenger while driving 80 miles per hour. The coordination was a bitch. Twelve passengers were ejected. The owner of the company the crew worked for never skipped a beat — she just hired a bunch of new kids and started up under a new name. Smith was the guy who handled the lobbying against the proposed safety act — lobbying that worked.

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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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