Accent on Living

THERE are still a few odd kinks in the American business operation that no one seems to be able to straighten out. Multiple solicitation by mail, for instance. Consider the case of Doakes, for the past ten years a subscriber for the magazine Tumult, He reads it closely, finds in it much to his liking, and knows almost as well as the editors what the magazine is all about.

Suddenly, in the same mail with his June 27 copy, Doakes receives three letters from the circulation department of Tumult. All three are identical— a rousing appeal for Doakes to take advantage, right away, of Tumult’s big money-saving, get-acquainted offer. Tumult has reason to believe, it tells him, that Doakes is precisely the kind of man who would enjoy reading Tumult. Simply use the convenient order form and return envelope and Tumult will be his.

Doakes is nettled by the letters, which imply that Tumult fails to appreciate his years of loyal readership; but it’s a small matter, a clerical error by some underling at Tumult, he decides. He throws the letters away. A week later two more letters arrive, tin’s time with air mail reply envelopes enclosed: Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!

Tumult is plainly losing its wits. Postage, paper, human energy are being squandered, and Doakes is offended by the stupidity of the repealed errors. And why should Tumult be offering him a lower rate as a stranger for a “trial" subscription than he pays as one of its perennial supporters?

Doakes sits down and writes a well-reasoned letter of reproof to Tumult. What has come over it? Desist. Let Tumult mend its ways. Disgustedly yours, J. Doakes.

From Tumult’s point of view, the situation underlying Doakes’s complaint is embarrassing but unavoidable. The magazine is enjoying a healthy growth, yet every year it loses a goodly number of its subscribers to death, poverty, procrastination, ennui, or the competition of other magazines. New readers must replace these defections.

One way for Tumult to replenish its list is to send out teams of fasttalking doorbell-ringers. But houseto-house selling is so expensive that it often eats up the entire subseription price and more.

Tumult has found that it can bring in a considerable number of new readers by display advertising with a coupon to clip. The difficulty here is that Tumult is not a “mass" magazine, and there are only a few media in which its advertising can be made to pay off.

This loaves only one other avenue of approach to the much needed new subscriber — direct mail. In the financial sense. Tumult is really in the mail-order business. A given expenditure on the direct mail appeal adds more new names than any other method will produce.

The people who inhabit the mailorder world have one characteristic in common: they are all willing to buy — nay, have bought — merchandise by mail. As a result of the purchase, their names have landed on a list, and a functionary known as a “list broker" rents the list for $10 or $15 per M (inch addr.) to those who would like to transact some more direct mail business with these same people.

Tumult’s circulat ion department receives thousands of cards from list brokers, each setting forth the peculiar virtues of a certain list.

A list may contain anywhere from a hundred to a million names. By testing out a thousand or two names on a big list, Tumult’s circulation department can drop it or go further, according to what the sample augurs. By much trial and error, it has learned exactly the degree of “special offer” that will fetch a new reader. It would much prefer to wrest the full price from him and it has experimented in that direction, but the newcomers simply won’t pay it — and no newcomers, no Tumult, for old subscribers or anyone else.

The diversity of brokers’ lists is likely to stagger anyone who encounters it for the first time. Here are a few bona fide categories, as described by the brokers: —

Unique list of people (30,000) interested in purchasing properly on West Coast deeded to the state for nonpayment of taxes.

Recent buyers (9290) of unique albums of bird songs and frog and toad voices.

People (400,000) who sent in a box top plus 50 cents cash for one chef’s saw.

Men (50,000) who want to learn how to become private detectives, find missing persons, etc.

Executives (10,000) who subscribe for a periodic service of urinalysis. These are health-conscious individuals with above-average income.

Extremely choice small list of buyers (2500) of cement for home repair of antiques, bric-a-brac, ceramics, etc.

Ten thousand people who are interested in “Naturopathy.”

People (15,000) who make speeches — leaders in their communities who have bought their speech material from a mail-order house.

Fifty thousand buyers of “Psychology of Love Courses.”

List ol people (7050) who have bought a bookkeeping system to be used in operating their own mailorder business from home or small office.

These categories may, of course, be a shade too specialized for Doakes, but if he received five letters, he is on five lists. Perhaps he is a gourmet — anyone at all, in the world of the list broker, who ever ordered by mail anything to eat or drink. Or he may be living on a “compiled list ” — that is, he is a mushroom fancier, a graduate of Berserk College, owns a ‘50 Chevvy, and took a winter cruise last, year to the Mediterranean. These qualities might put him on a highly selective list where all four would be included, or he might be named on four additional lists on account of each.

Well, reasons Doakes after hearing Tumult’s story, why doesn’t the magazine screen out its subscribers before using the lists rented from the brokers? A fair question, and the answer is twofold: 1) The screen-out operation alone would cost Tumult upwards of $40,000 a year, and this it cannot afford; 2) most of the brokers won’t let the lists out. of their own possession, lest others copy the lists and spring into being as competing brokers. Tumult never even catches a glimpse of the list it must use.

At any rate, that’s how it all comes to pass. [Nothing in the foregoing is necessarily to be construed as relating in any way to the affairs of the Atlantic.]