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#75 Great Condé Nast Blow-in Pissing Match
From:
Denny Hatch -- Marketing Expert Denny Hatch -- Marketing Expert
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Philadelphia , PA
Tuesday, November 12, 2019

 
Issue #75 – Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Posted by Denny Hatch

The Great Condé Nast 
Blow-in Pissing Match


Magazine Circulation Blow-in/Bind-in Cards

Last week I received this email from a subscriber.

     Hi Denny,
     Question:
     I subscribe to about a dozen magazines. Science, political (both traditional, liberal and conservative), etc. All of them (except The New Yorker) make heavy, regular use of bound-in and blown-in reply cards—i.e., between three and four postage-paid reply cards in each issue. (I find 'em and remove 'em before reading, as I consider them a nuisance.

During my direct response marketing training and active years in the business, I learned what worked was what was re-used. This implies that the massive waste of paper I describe above must be cost-effective. I find it hard to believe. Do you have any info on the cost-effectiveness of these pesky inserts?
     Keep up the good work.
     As always, my best to you and Peg!! 
             David Garber
             Former Executive Director
             U.S. Curling Association
 

The Short Answer on Blow-ins
Hey, David,
     Let's say the average subscriber renews for six years and spends $200 on subscriptions. During that time advertisers spend $300 to reach him. And other marketers spend $100 to rent his name to send him promotions. The lifetime value of that subscriber is $600.
     And let's say the cost of printing and blowing in 4 cards is 4¢ plus an additional 65¢ to the Post Office for the Reply Mail.
     Thus spending 69¢ to bring in a $600 subscriber means blow-ins are hugely profitable.
The Long Answer
Lemme tell you the story of the delicious war I declared on Condé Nast, The New Yorker and a fatuous writer named Calvin "Bud" Trillin.
     Trillin—a surly, smug, smartass scribe who specialized in food and trivia—decided that bound-in and blow-in subscription cards in magazines were a pain in the ass. He wrote a piece for King Features Syndicate (which served hundreds of newspapers) in which he suggested magazine readers should:
     • Collect these cards.
     • Scribble a short note wishing everybody well.
     • Drop them in the nearest mailbox.
     • It cost the reader nothing because they were all postage paid.
     • The magazine publisher was forced to pony up 28¢ return postage for each card.
     • This was financial punishment of magazines for including these infernal nuisances.

Gratifying Media Coverage
"I've been gratified by the response to my suggestion that those subscription cards that are always falling out of magazines be used to write encouraging notes to the magazine's employees...  If the magazine is thoughtful enough to provide the postage -- almost all of the cards say right on them 'No Postage Necessary if Mailed in the United States' -- the least we can do is write 'Keep up the good work, Circulation Fulfillment people' on the card and drop it in the mail. There's no need to subscribe."
Calvin Trillin, The Stamford [CT] Advocate, May 19, 1987
     This was the follow-up to a long piece via King Features Syndicate—titled "Show 'em You Care"—that not only suggested trashing magazine business reply mail, but also that of financial services and collectibles as well.
     In addition, Trillin laid this idea on millions of viewers watching the Johnny Carson Show.
     What Trillin, age 52, revealed was a very sick mind—the same brat mentality of the adolescent computer hackers who created Trojan horse programs, causing hard disks to crash with an "Arf! Arf! Gotcha!" appearing on the screen.
     Trillin was more dangerous.
     He was a suicide bomber planting IEDs  throughout the industry that was making him rich.
     While these mischievous columns appeared in newspapers all across the U.S., his reputation was firmly grounded in his work for Condé Nast and The New Yorker.
     This was where to go after him!

My Response
Below is my letter to Trillin that I published in my newsletter:
Dear Buddy,

There was a time when we were in the Army together when you were very kind to me -- when I was going through a painful separation with my wife. I have never forgotten your many kindnesses.

I have not really read much of your writing; I'm not terribly interested in getting laid in a car wash or the quality of ribs in Kansas City.

But with your syndicated column, "Show 'em You Care," in which you suggest people write nice little messages on bind-in and blow-in cards and drop them in the mail...

  ...thus costing magazines a lot of postage-due money...
  ...you've really stepped in it, buster.

Ann Landers and Dear Abby preach this nonsense... and the direct marketing community has been powerless to do anything buy write indignant letters.

In this case we can do something.


I am the editor and publisher of a newsletter that goes to 1700 direct marketing professionals. In my next issue, I am going to report on your column... and they urge every single one of my subscribers to beg, borrow and steal New Yorker blow-ins and bind-ins for the next 10 weeks -- from newsstands, doctors' offices, reception rooms, airlines, coffee tables -- as well as BREs from your direct mail campaign...


     ... and then write on them: "Calvin Trillin says hello" ... and have them drop these things in the mail (postage free, natch).


Two cards a week x 10 weeks x 1700 subscribers is 34,000 reply cards x 28¢ return postage each equals $9,520 in postage alone.


Why stop with The New Yorker? Let's go after the entire Newhouse chain: Vogue. House & Garden. Vanity Fair. Glamour. Self. Gourmet. Mademoiselle!

Further. I am going to encourage my colleagues at Direct Marketing Magazine and DM News to urge their readers to do the same.

     You Goddamned idiot.

                          Denison Hatch

Cc: S.I. Newhouse, Jr. 
    Arlene Corbett, Circulation Manager, The New Yorker
 
The Response Was Startling!
The direct marketing industry rallied to the cause!
     DM NEWS (circulation 35,000) reported on my letter. Direct Marketing magazine (circulation 19,000) ran my Trillin column virtually without comment in the July issue.
     For openers, readers assured me that The New Yorker circulation department was receiving a lot of warm wishes from Calvin Trillin.
     A number of readers wrote and called with some really fiendish ideas that I dared not reprint. Our consulting editor, Bob Scott (a loyal New Yorker subscriber), took me to task for fighting fire with gasoline.
     Scott, as well as Bob Sabloff, suggested a campaign by the direct marketing community to try to persuade advertisers to boycott the Condé Nast group.
     Michael P. Spinella of Handley-Wood, Inc. suggested that a "panel of publishing professionals sit down with Mr. Trillin and discuss the issue seriously. Without name-calling or threats, perhaps he could be 'educated.' “Perhaps, if he is a reasonable man, he would even consider publicly withdrawing his proposal. Has anyone tried this approach?"
     Freelancer Bob Matheo was "sick-and-tired of magazines overflowing with bind-ins and blow-ins." Matheo's solution: bind-ins and blow-ins should require stamps. Ken Mitnick of Business PassCards said there oughtta be a law—and the Direct Marketing Association should lobby for it making the trashing of business reply mail—and the promoting of it—a crime. (Just as it’s a crime to destroy U.S. currency.)
     Nancy Corey wrote a long, motherly letter to Trillin. Florida freelancer Tony Arau wrote to The New Yorker's new editor, Bob Gottlieb, saying Trillin shot himself in the foot. Gottlieb agreed, but added that since the piece appeared elsewhere, it was not his place to chide Trillin for it.
     Others suggested that hundreds of subscriptions be taken out in Trillin's name, so that he would be inundated with publications and dunning notices.
     (I was uncomfortable with Trillin receiving unsolicited magazines and dunning notices. This would give him more to write about. The only thing that might make Trillin heel would be a naked assault on Condé Nast profits.)
     I also received a number of calls and letters from subscribers with the discouraging news that the percentage of their own—or clients'— trashed Business Reply Mail has risen geometrically—from 10% two months ago to as high as 40% and 50% currently.
     Here’s a sample:

MERIT COMMUNICATIONS INC.
9100 White Chimney Lane • Great Falls, VA 22066 • (703) 759-3004


                                          June 22, 1987
Mr. Calvin Trillin
The New Yorker
25 West 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036

Dear Mr. Trillin:

     I publish a newsletter, the Private Placement Advisory, and the only way I can find subscribers is through direct mail.  To make ordering convenient I supply business reply envelopes in all the mailings.

     It’s expensive to get subscriptions by direct mail.  I pay about 50 cents for each piece mailed out.  At that total cost – for the printing, postage, artwork and list of names – I am very careful about the people I try to contact.

     Every day I go to the Great Falls post office with my checkbook to pay for incoming business reply mail. Each envelope coming back to me costs another 45 cents.

     Every day, more than half the envelopes are stuffed with the hate mail that you believe is so clever.

     My publication may not survive the stupidity that you promote.  Other specialized publications probably face the same struggle.  Direct mail to carefully chosen lists is the only way to assemble and audience for special topics. Reader’s Digest will find a way to survive your hate campaign, but the small presses of America may not.

                                      Sincerely,
                                      /s/ David Gump
                                      David Gump
                                      Publisher

According to my sources, many thousands of trashed Condé Nast blow-ins and bind-ins were landing in the mail room at great expense.

A Newhouse Calls

Jonathan Newhouse
At some point I received a call from Jonathan Newhouse, the son of S.I. Newhouse, magazine magnate and owner of Condé Nast. Jonathan was viewed by many as the equivalent of Donald Trump, Jr. back in that era.
     "I am as unhappy about what Trillin said as you are,” Jonathan whined. “He's a very independent fellow, and we can't control what he says."
      Newhouse went on to say that if people started acting on what is suggested in my letter, it would have no effect on Trillin, and it would cost his organization a lot of money.
     “Okay,” I said. “Then fire the son of a bitch and don’t let him write for any Condé Nast publication—ever!”
     “I couldn’t do that.”
     I hung up on the little weasel.
    
On May 21st Newhouse sent to our booth on New York Direct Marketing Day a drop-dead gorgeous blonde from Condé Nast’s circulation department to try and talk me into calling off the dogs.

Trillin Did a Donald Trump and Doubled Down
On July 1st, Trillin published another syndicated column in which he called our industry "junk marketing”... sneered at DM News for criticizing him… and ended with:

"I realized that circulation fulfillment people who read DM News would think I had been using them. They'd all be terribly hurt. Fortunately, when that realization struck me, I was on an airplane. I hurried back to the magazine rack and removed the subscription cards from every magazine whose circulation fulfillment people I'd written before— Vogue, The New Yorker, U.S. News, Time, GQ, Esquire. I wrote the same message on every card: 'Whatever you read to the contrary, I sincerely meant what I said.' When we landed, I dropped all the cards into the mailbox. I felt a lot better."

What in the world was Trillin up to? With his King Features connection he was no longer dependent on The New Yorker for income. One possibility: these destructive columns represented a vendetta against Si Newhouse for summarily firing Trillin's friend and mentor, long-time New Yorker editor William Shawn.

Eventually the brouhaha wound down and life went on.
      The entire caper was a hoot.

Takeaways to Consider

• I never found out how much financial damage I did to Condé Nast. I assume it was five figures—maybe even six.

• The only winner was the USPS who raked in some windfall postage payments.

• Never underestimate the power of a letter.

• "Of all the formats used in direct mail, none has more power to generate action than the letter."
—Dick Hodgson

• The happiest days of my career were when I was (1) writing my three novels and (2) publishing and editing the cranky newsletter, WHO'S MAILING WHAT! 

BTW, the three novels are:




###

Word count: 2013



At age 15, Denny Hatch—as a lowly apprentice—wrote his first news release for a Connecticut summer theater. To his astonishment it ran verbatim in The Middletown Press. He was instantly hooked on writing. After a two-year stint in the U.S. Army (1958-60), Denny had nine jobs in his first 12 years in business. He was fired from five of them and went on to save two businesses and start three others. One of his businesses—WHO’S MAILING WHAT! newsletter and archive service founded in 1984—revolutionized the science of how to measure the success of competitors’ direct mail. In the past 55 years he has been a book club director, magazine publisher, advertising copywriter/designer, editor, journalist and marketing consultant. He is the author of four published novels and seven books on business and marketing.

CONTACT

Denny Hatch
The St. James
200 West Washington Square, #3007
Philadelphia, PA 19106
215-644-9526 (Rings on my desk)
dennyhatch@yahoo.com

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