Why Are Magazines So Bad at Updating Addresses?

A reader named Mason DeCamillis writes in with a question/complaint:

Why does it take several weeks for magazines to update my mailing address when I move? I just changed my address with two magazines (on their respective websites), and both say it will take up to two publication cycles for the change to take effect. That seems crazy. When I buy something at an online store, I enter my address and they’re able to make a shipment to it the following business day, without waiting weeks for their database to be updated.

On the same note, when I originally subscribed to one of these magazines, I didn’t receive my first issue for almost three months, but in that time I received three letters from them asking me to renew my subscription. If they’re able to send a letter to me that quickly, shouldn’t it at least be accompanied by a current issue of the magazine?

Ouch. That’s a lot of bad practice for just a couple of paragraphs, but it’s hard to disagree. So why does this happen? Why is magazine fulfillment so last-century? And is it possible that these various flaws are responsible, even in small measure, for the massive plunge in ad revenues that magazines have just experienced? In an instant-gratification Internet world, are slow-footed magazines — nice glossy pages and all — helping to extinguish themselves?


Carl Spackler

Its because they are typically printing/preparing the Magazine a month to two months in advance of the Actual Issue. At some point physical copies have to be printed and bound, and if a Publication has a large circulation that only takes more time.

So the address change has to go from the Magazine to whomever is printing the Magazine in enough time to get the variable data swapped out. Obviously subscription address changes arent going to be made over and over throughout production, not cost effective, so they are probably all lumped in at an early date in production. You aren't going to change a Magazine at Blue Line for one address change.

Steve

@1 - I would have to disagree. When I moved, the same thing happened to me. Except that Sports Illustrated had the next magazine at my new address even though I put off informing them of the change until the week we moved.

In addition to that, many (if not most) of my wife's magazines come in handy dandy environmentally unsafe clear plastic wrapping that has all the address information on it. You can't tell me they print those things up weeks in advance.

Finally, the people who moved out of our current house had a magazine subscription that was never forwarded to their new address. It's been over 2 years and we still get the magazine but now it comes in my wife's name. And no, it isn't a magazine we ever got before.

I think the system is broken.

BC

#1, that may explain Better Housekeeping or Sunset but not Newsweek or Time. I presume these latter publications operate much more like newspapers since most of what they publish has be very timely. In my experience, they are not better at address changes than the monthies.

keith

Printing and binding doesn't necessarily include the address being sprayed onto the magazine as a part of printing (other than that novelty Reason cover with "your address GoogleMap" printed on the cover). If printing is done by a vendor (such as Quebecor, North America's largest printer) how often the magazine refreshes their mailing list with the vendor, and how often they pay for the address list to be presorted. Since the USPS will do address forwarding for 30 days without charge for most permit mailers, that'd tend to be your cost-effective window.

I just found out the USPS won't charge periodicals for address forwarding until 60 days after the change of address, so there it is.

from http://pe.usps.com/text/dmm300/507.htm#4_0

4.1.4 Periodicals
Address correction service is provided automatically for all Periodicals publications (including publications pending Periodicals authorization) and begins 60 days after the effective date of the addressee's change of address. Address corrections are provided as separate notices or, at the mailer's request, on the returned pieces.

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Matt

Most of the magazines I receive arrive in a plastic bag, or with the address printed on a sticker on the front cover. Since the magazines aren't printed and bound with the names/addresses printed directly on them, the binding process shouldn't be affected by updating address information that will be added to the magazine after it's printed and bound.

sram

May be because they print a dozen or so address slips in advance to save cost?

Nylund

Carl is right. I worked in the magazine industry for years. Magazines are made 1 to 2 months in advance. For magazines with circulations in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, printing, binding, and shipping throughout the country is no small feat and its done well in advance.

I just looked at my old magazine's schedule. Right now they are working on the July/August issue. The May issue (which actually hits stands late April) has likely already been printed and is currently starting its journey from the printing press to people's mailboxes. The June issue is probably well into the proofing stage, past the point where they'd resubmit files to the printer simply for a new address. If you subscribed now in mid-April, July/August would probably be the first issue you'd get delivered.

That may seem like the industry is absurdly ahead of schedule, but its really not. Its actually a nail-biter every month trying to get those things on the stand by the date printed on the cover.

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Donnie

Carl, the addresses are not printed on the actual magazines most of the time. They are printed on small labels that get slapped on the magazines.

Tom Woolf

I can see the early printing of magazines causing *some* delay, but 2 cycles? No way - especially for new magazines and other magazines that carry very recent events.

Covers are frequently very recent pictures. Subscriber's addresses are printed on the covers. So if they can get Tuesday's picture of President Obama (or a shaved Britney Speares) on the cover of a magazine delivered Saturday, they should be able to get the address changed.

Instead, they are just being lazy and/or cheap. Either their address update process is ancient, or they CHOOSE to have a too-small set of staff to make the changes. You've already paid for the magazine, and you will ultimately get your newer issues, so they have nothing to lose by sending a couple to Walla Walla instead of Poughkeepsie.

Ben

The first two comments are enlightening on the process editing and printing the magazine, but I think the question has more to do with mailing labels than the actual magazine copy.

I have a copy of Outside magazine sitting on my desk, which has my address on a peel-off adhesive label. Surely it doesn't take them 2 months to print these out and stick them onto the magazine. It seems like that would be the last step in the process, right before they get sent out the door.

Very last-century, indeed.

Sprout

I just got a renewal notice two months into a new subscription saying their "records show my subscription is ending". If this is just the beginning of the notices, I won't be renewing.

Tariq

I'm not sure that I agree (or understand) the logic that magazines are being printed two cycles in advance.

I had the exact same problem with The Economist. In the past I saw the same with Newsweek. Both are weekly and contain news/analysis from the past week's events up to the point of publication - how can they be printed even one cycle in advance?

Tariq

Hmmm - to ponder my own question, perhaps it's the type of binding that matters? (The Economist and Newsweek use crude staples to hold the magazine together - as opposed to more quality binding used in other, larger monthly magazines).

keith

To be more concise, why would the magazine pay their fulfillment list processor to represort an updated list, if the USPS will provide periodicals forwarding at no charge for 60 days?

N Choi

From what I've seen so far, the addresses are usually printed separately from the magazine content, either in an empty box on the cover of the magazine (e.g. the Economist) or in a separate card bundled in a clear plastic bag (e.g. Wired). So I don't think it needs to have anything to do with the preparation of the magazine content itself. I don't know the status quo, but conceptually it's seems like a straightforward process: a database of subscribers printed on the magazine right before you ship it out with the post office. If the database system are linked correctly (via the internet, presumably), a subscriber could update their address and have the information sent right into the printers. Let's say it takes 5 days between printing the address labels to having the magazine delivered to the customer. It seems like it should take no more than a week from address change to the magazine delivered to a subscriber's doorstep. The problem here, it seems, is the linkage between the central subscriber database and the printers. I suppose a sufficiently large publication uses a lot of printers, and setting up a just-in-time, automated subscriber address data feed from the central subscriber database to the printers takes a non-trivial amount of work and will cost quite a bit.

Also, I know it doesn't have to take that long for a magazine to be prepared, printed and delivered. The Economist magazine I receive on Friday talks about events that happened as late as Wednesday.

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Celeste

Something is seriously wrong with magazine service, unless it takes 2 months of printing time per issue, updates to addresses and new subscriptions should happen monthly.

As to why they're loosing money. I think a big flaw for magazines has been their websites. Why subscribe when I can get most of what I want for free online? And subscribing doesn't give me any special online privileges or access.

And you have to love that they have time to send junk mail to their current customers. That's one of my pet peeves. I hate junk mail, and getting it from my own service providers is even worse. Take your current customers addresses off of your junk mail list! I already have car insurance with you, don't make me change my mind. Really it can't be that hard to tell the database, that if an address appears in the customer database, don't send junk mail for services they already have.

Andy

I have an interesting test case for the hypothesis that the binding matters that was proposed by Tariq. I am moving next week and I notified both The Economist and Esquire of the address change today. The Economist is bound with staples and Esquire has more elaborate binding typical of monthly magazines. We will see if there is a significant difference in how long it takes me to get each magazine at my new address.

T-Bill

Not sure I know the answer to this, but here is one I do know:

With the sudden advent of magazine claiming I "asked" to be automatically renewed and billed when I subscribed, I find myself cancelling many of my magazines.

I hate this marketing tactic. I am sure somewhere in their fine print they put this proviso in. But I resent it deeply and have cancelled many publications I love. Because I hate the tactics of someone else in the organization.

misterb

I'm sure that those associated with the publishing industry can give a rationalization for the industry's poor customer service. But that misses the point - if magazines want to survive as an industry, they'd better figure out how to compete with the Internet, and this ain't it!

Carl Spackler

The logic behind the two cycles is simply layout/production/editing, all normal processes of good/quality journalism.

There's also production and mailing, they have to meet "In-Home" dates and the Printer generally has a Number of copies to Print, (thus determining the amount of Paper/production time needed to print and the overall cost to the Magazine), bind, stamp with variable data and mail.

I don't think the binding style affects production time much if any. Business Reply Cards/Inserts/Post Its do involve moving an Insert Machine over, but not much else. Binding/Paper Quality just affects cost of Printing.

We have come to accept crude/rudimentary forms of journalism because they are quick and easy. When a very good writer is combined with a good photojournalist and an editor that know how to motivate, everyone enjoys the quality results. When you rush it, you get forms of communication like Twitter, which are reversing the evolution of Man.

The Magazine Fulfillment Business is going to get even scarier with the services that let you choose which magazines you want to receive each week/month ala Netflix.

The thing I dont get is why Advertisers don't like Glossy Magazines more than TV now, you can't TIVO a Magazine.

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