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October 13, 2008

ShopSmart: Hiding the Real Price of Magazine Subscriptions

Filed under: Business,Uncategorized — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:28 am

For years, airlines, car rental agencies, and cell carriers have advertised eye-catching but incomplete prices. In a very calculated way, they leave out of the big print price certain fees, taxes, and other charges to make the advertised price seem lower than the price the consumer will actually pay.

This practice has now made its way into the publishing industry for some magazine subscriptions.

Here is a subscription card for ShopSmart;) magazine:


Nowhere is the total price disclosed. Rather, you are made to do the math yourself — 6 issues times $3 an issue is $18. Right?


*PLUS $4.95 S/H

Shipping and handling is extra? For a magazine subscription?

Worse, what kind of sleazy publisher would pull this kind of stunt? The last one you would ever expect — Consumers Union — the publisher of Consumer Reports. Ironically, they are known for pointing out lapses like this on their Selling It page each month.

When questioned why the total price was not stated, and why they resorted to using a fine print disclosure to indicate that the advertised price was not the actual price customers would pay, a spokesperson emailed:

“Unlike many other publications, ShopSmart takes no ads and we need to depend upon revenue from newsstand sales and subscribers for this publication. Part of the reason that Consumers Union charges shipping and handling for ShopSmart is that it is a newer title with a relatively small circulation; it’s not afforded the economies of scale that benefit larger publications.

Our marketing team believes that the S+H notices listed elsewhere on the advertisement were both reasonable and appropriate.

As you know, we are a mission-driven, non-profit organization. Revenue from this product helps support our ongoing product testing and research.

Our hope is that potential subscribers will see the value of ShopSmart and that we will be able to reach, and inform, a new audience of savvy shoppers.”

Wow… sounds like the type of denial that an ordinary publisher might sling. Please don’t get me wrong. Consumers Union is a fine organization that has earned the public’s respect for decades for the invaluable services they provide. And ShopSmart;) is actually quite a good magazine with features of great value to many, particularly those interested in consumerism. What I do object to is this type of advertising tactic. They are the last organization in the world I would ever expect to engage in such a ploy.

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  1. I subscriber to Consumer Reports. What really ticks me off is that I pay more for the online version than if I purchased the hard copy. There are never any “deals” for the online version. I would think that in this age of “going green” they would give us online version subscribers some sort of a rebate. I just don’t want to create a pile of paper in my home but I do feel ripped off over this.

    Comment by Anne — October 13, 2008 @ 10:42 am

    Comment by LEN — October 13, 2008 @ 1:05 pm
  3. I’m confused: $3 each plus $4.95 S&H for all the issues…or $3 each plus $4.95 each?

    Comment by Kyralessa — October 13, 2008 @ 2:22 pm
  4. A lot of magazines do this and have been doing it for years. This is another reason why people need to be aware and READ everything before they purchase anything.

    Comment by gert — October 13, 2008 @ 2:56 pm
  5. Consumer Reports also uses another technique used by many magazines.
    If you subsbcribe in early October you will get the September issue around month end followed a few days later by the October issue and then towards month-end the November issue. Thus one-third of your subscription is used in less than a month

    Comment by Michael — October 13, 2008 @ 10:54 pm
  6. With the economy the way it is today, I just go to Borders or B&N, browse through the magazine section and buy what I like! No worries about subscriptions and I only get the issues that peaks my interest! I don’t like to buy sight unseen – even with magazines.

    Comment by Frankie — October 13, 2008 @ 11:38 pm
  7. Oddly enough, I brought up a similar issue to CU years ago when I noticed that I could get a free trial magazine and if I liked it I would get 11 “more issues” to complete my 12 magazines. To me that means that if I DON’T buy it’s free but if I order a subscription, I pay for my FREE trial.
    About a year later I noticed them offering 13 issues for the price of 12.

    Anyway, I agree that with e-costs at virtually nothing, there’s no reason to pay for shipping costs but why do companies charge EXTRA in places where it saves them money?
    I chose not to pay extra for the e-version since it looked like the same extra product. I would have TRANSFERRED by subscription to electronic but they indicated that you only get it if you pay extra!?

    Anyway, as for this S&H charge? Deceptive but still probably less than buying at the newstand, which is becoming outrageous. They really need to learn how to come up with a better model to give you e-subscriptions without having to worry about people “stealing” it and giving it away for nothing.

    Comment by RS — October 14, 2008 @ 12:42 am
  8. Most magazines can be read for free at your local public library.
    In addition you can in mostcases get access to the online version of a
    magazine through you librarie’s web site.

    Comment by Librarian — October 14, 2008 @ 4:03 pm
  9. “Anyway, as for this S&H charge? Deceptive but still probably less than buying at the newstand, which is becoming outrageous.”

    According to their numbers, no. If $3 is 39% off of the newsstand price, then $8 is almost double the newsstand price.

    Comment by Bob — October 25, 2008 @ 2:34 am
  10. I hear ya on the magazine thing where you get many issues right away. That happened with one last year, subscribed and got 3 issues in 2 days. One was of course a backissue. I hate that.

    Comment by MidwestSnowMom — December 9, 2008 @ 10:47 am
  11. I agree with many earlier statements. I personally believe that the exact replicas should be offered at a lower price. Many auditing agency only require publishers to charge 25% of the newsstand price. However, e-publishing is not free either. The publication has the cost of software (license or service), per page conversion fee, content hosting, and email delivery. Go green publishing! I subscribe to the local e-paper and enjoy accessing it at home and at work.

    Comment by Sasha — January 15, 2009 @ 3:28 pm
  12. They are forever sending you renewal forms. I think they hope you are too busy to notice that you still may have 6 months left on your subscription and you’ll just send in another payment. How many people have done that?

    Comment by suzanne — February 17, 2009 @ 3:02 pm
  13. In Romania it is much simpler – the price of a magazine or a newspaper is the price written on the first cover. The profit of the seller is in the discount that he receive from the publisher.

    Comment by Mihai — April 14, 2009 @ 11:34 am

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