Literate civil disobedience: Send those magazine cards back blank

Carol Vinzant

Magazine and catalog publishers know that everybody hates blow-in cards -- the postcards that fall out when you read. Yet they keep on putting them in. I just got a new WIRED Magazine with three blow in cards and a fashion supplement I won't read, all bound up in a polybag.

Like many consumers, I'm tempted to send the blow-in cards back blank. Many people have suggested this over the years. But how much will it really cost WIRED and dissuade them from these totally annoying, eco-unfriendly tactics? How many people would it take to do it? According to Direct Marketing Magazine, they do it because the cost of blowing in a card that I'll ignore is about half the cost of sending out a letter I'll ignore. But the response rate is abysmal: only 0.35%. That means they have to do 300 cards to get one back. The 2006 story put the cost at $30 to $40 per thousand.

If WIRED conformed to all those norms, it would be spending about 3.5 cents per card put in the magazine and roughly $10 for every card it gets back. (It's offering subscriptions at only $8 year, but that's part of the fuzzy economics of magazines today, which are supported more by ads than sales.)

I checked with the post office to see how much postage they would pay for every card returned. A high volume mailer like WIRED has to pay several thousand dollars a year in fees, then 24.7 cents per card actual postage and .006 cents for processing under its special Business Reply Mail permit. So, basically it's a quarter for every postcard. Let's assume WIRED wouldn't consider the blow-in cards attractive if the cost doubled -- making it the same price as mailing a letter. What would it take for the process to cost $30 more per thousand? At 25 cents a pop, it means that 120 of 1,000 postcards would have to make it to the mailbox. That's what I think it would take to get the blow-in cards to stop: better than one in 10 people sending the cards back blank.

Are you up for joining me?

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