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Readers Respond to Our Magazine Sales Crew Story

Online readers respond to "Selling You," by Craig Malisow, July 17.

Great investigative journalism! As always, no one wants to take responsibility for the deaths, and the families are the ones that suffer. All that just to make a buck.

Javier Santos from Houston

Kudos: I saw the link to this story on Gawker.com and am glad I took the bait. I knew that sales pitches about points toward college scholarships were total bullshit, but I had no idea how the subscription industry worked. Kudos from a fellow journalist.

Katie from Minneapolis

I sold mags: It was a great experience. It is all about connecting with the person you are trying to sell to in a matter of ten to 15 seconds. You can tell by that time if you can close the deal or not. Not many people are that interested in buying an $11 subscription for $30 — that was our cheapest. $11 for the actual magazine. Double that, for $22, then add $8 for process and handling. Five dollars and 50 cents went to the manager and the other $5.50 went to the salesperson. Great experience if you have nothing and would like to see your country.

Jake from Indianapolis

Shine the light: I have to say how well-written and researched this article is. I can't say I "enjoyed" reading how these kids and their "Joneses" are exploited, but I am glad that you've given them a voice. I think it's despicable that large corporations continue to demonstrate such an appalling lack of concern for pretty much everyone. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, so I hope exposure like this will lead to closing this abusive industry down.

Visitor from Fark from Canada

Angry: Thanks for the informative article about these predatory creeps and the people they hire. I have read, from time to time, stories about "agents" being arrested in my area for assaulting homeowners (and worse).

Three weeks ago, a pair of them were making their way down my street and I didn't answer the door when one got to my house. He wouldn't leave my porch. He rang the bell and knocked for almost five minutes, and then he cut the screen on my storm door, reached in and unlocked it. Then he opened it and began to work on the lock to my main door!

I sent my kids to lock themselves in the basement laundry room. I retrieved my pistol, and as I was returning to the door with the pistol and a phone to call 911, he was trying to yank open the crank-out window next to my door.

I yelled out that I was armed and calling the police, and he hoofed it out of there. I called the police, and minutes later I saw him trying to light my paper leaf bags (full of leaves) on fire out at the far corner of my property! He couldn't get the matches to stay lit long enough, I guess. The police never located him.

I am a small woman, home alone with two small children during the day, and this not only surprised and frightened me, it made me very angry. He's damn lucky he wasn't able to break in.

Oh, I also have a "no soliciting" sign and a warning to intruders that we will defend ourselves stuck right there on the door.

Armed Homeowner from Bedford

Another side: The article really paints a different kind of picture than what I saw. I guess I was lucky. My manager never gave us drugs and never supplied us with anything illegal. We ate every day, because you have to eat. The guy was good and ran a tight ship. There were a few times we had people in our group that were arrested for soliciting without a permit. The manager always came to bail us out, at his expense. From the article it sounds like those groups got the worst of the kids — we didn't have that high of a turnover ratio. If you didn't sell any mags for two straight days, you were sent home, with a paid Greyhound bus ticket.

Just goes to show you that the mainstream media will only show you the very worst side of a story. I would never knock on a door for more than 20 to 30 seconds — no answer, next house. I didn't have time to lollygag around waiting for every house to answer. Claiming your neighbor bought some mags from you is an excellent way to sell some, because we all know that "we're keeping up with the Joneses." "No Soliciting" signs are put up by husbands who know that their wives cannot stop themselves from buying anything and everything that comes knocking at their door. These signs are a magnet for ­salespeople.

Jake from Indianapolis

Wow: What a tragically well-written article. There are reasons the Press likes to focus on the "negative" — for one, it's interesting to us, but more than that, it's a great way to catalyze some change. It is unfortunate that so many of the wealthy people in this world get rich by taking as much advantage of as many people as they can.

Alex from San Jose

Stunned: Reading this article resurrected the three-week nightmare I endured in the winter of 1981 while a part of a D2D sales team in Houston. I was 19, foolish and from an unstable home life in a small Texas town. Their offer sounded too good to turn down.

I barely escaped with my life and the clothes on my back. Like the girl in the story, I tried several times secretly to call my sister, who lived 45 miles away, for help, but we could never connect and I was very afraid of being turned in.

After reading this article, at age 46 I am vowing to do something about this. A little girl came to my door the other day. Said she was selling the mags because she wanted to be a missionary. It was a new one, I thought. She looked 16.

Thanks from the bottom of my heart. This left me stunned. That experience will never leave my mind.

DL Foster from Atlanta

From the mailbag:

Make a law: There are two sides to this story. For the most part, it has concentrated on the crime and violence that spins off some magazine sales crews, and may have the unfortunate effect of turning every salesperson on a magazine crew into a perceived public threat.

The crime issue must be balanced against the hidden, but all pervasive, problem of civil rights and labor abuse suffered by many youths who have gotten caught up in these migrant worker-like jobs and suffer silently. Communities need to know more about who these youths are.

On any given day, Parent Watch estimates there are approximately 15,000 youths traversing the country, selling magazines door-to-door. According to our records, the great majority of these youths are ordinary young people who simply have little or no financial resources. They do not have criminal histories, and do not commit crimes while on crew. These kids are simply looking for jobs.

Once on crew, however, most discover, too late, that their earnings are nowhere near what was promised, and that whatever money they do manage to earn will be kept from them by their managers. This makes it very difficult for them to leave, and that is how, on a bad crew, their abuse begins.

Across the board, the youths are hired as independent contractors (and most don't even know what that means). And, even though they discover on the job that they have no control over any aspect of their employment, there is no protection or recourse for them under the Fair Labor Standards Act because of the Outside Sales Exemption.

Bad managers know that there is no Bureau of Independent Contractor Complaints within the U.S. Department of Labor, so they feel free to squeeze the daylights out of their sales force; the informal rule within the industry is "whatever it takes."

There is an obvious need for a federal labor law that offers protection to this class of migrant worker as surely as the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act is on the books to protect seasonal agricultural workers.

How much longer do these young workers in the outside sales sector have to wait for governmental oversight? Some of the youths featured in Wednesday's article are gone from this earth, but would likely not be if a protective law had been in place.

For them, it's too late already.

Earlene Williams, Director of
Parent Watch
New York City

Correction

In our review of the Agatha Christie play The Unexpected Guest, now playing at the Alley Theatre ["Who Knows Whodunit" by Lee Williams, July 24], we got the relationship wrong between two of the characters. Jan is Richard's younger half-brother.

The Houston Press regrets the error.


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