Magazine Ads Led Me To Cancel My Subscription

by Kosmo on 2010-04-0111

Here he is again, one of my favorite guest posters, Kosmo, paying me a visit and sharing his thoughts on magazine advertising. Kosmo is an aspiring novelist, vehement opponent of the designated hitter, student of true crime, and plays the keyboard for The Casual Observer — an eclectic, team-written web magazine.

Kosmo would like to give readers of The Digerati Life a discount at his store. During the next month, use the coupon code DIGLIFE25 to get a 25% discount on all items (excluding writers’ tip jars).

Magazine Ads Led Me To Cancel My Subscription

I currently subscribe to four periodicals –- Mac World, Sports Weekly, Archaeology, and Popular Science (I’m also a non-subscribing recipient of The Sporting News, since they managed to mess up my cancellation). From the perspective of literary content, I am very happy with all of them, with the exception of The Sporting News (I attempted to cancel this because of the substandard writing and analysis).

However, when two of these reach the end of the current subscription period, I am going to let them lapse. Those two magazines are Archaeology and Popular Science. Why am I allowing these to lapse? To save money? Because I don’t have the time to read them? While both of those would be solid reasons, they aren’t the main reason.

magazine bowl
Magazine Bowl image from Chez What?

My decision boils down to those magazines’ choice of advertisers. I have no problem with advertising, per se. I realize that revenue from advertisers allows publishers to sell the magazines at a somewhat reasonable price. Heck, one of my degrees is in marketing.

What I take issue with are the actual advertisers. It started several months ago when I noticed advertisements in Archaeology selling “gold” coins. I ranted about this at some length. The gist of my argument was that these advertisements were deceptive in nature and were selling these coins at an inflated price with the false hope that they would become collector’s items.

Later, similar ads began appearing in Popular Science. I get angry enough when I see companies trying to levy the “stupid tax” on people who can’t see through the BS of these ads. However, I was even more upset at the brazen approach of placing these ads in science-themed magazines. My hope is that readers of science magazine would be, by nature of their interest in the scientific method, more skeptical of the claims made by these companies. Furthermore, it upsets me that the staff at these magazines apparently had no problem publishing deceptive advertisements — implicitly vouching for the advertisers.

The final straw was when I saw an ad for a set of golf balls in Popular Science. Featured on the balls were the faces of a dozen of Tiger Woods’ mistresses. Although it’s not my type of humor, I can understand why some people might be amused by it. However, I remind you, this is a science-themed magazine — not a magazine with a celebrity or sports focus.

My message to magazine publishers is this: be more selective in the advertising you accept. It reflects on you as an organization. Many of the people who are offended by the advertising aren’t going to write an article to tell you about it — they’re just going to let the subscription lapse.

P.S. I know what you’re going to say. “But Kosmo, I saw an ad on The Casual Observer for product X. This is clearly a scam.”

The world of blog advertising is a bit different. Many people use Adsense (by Google) to handle advertising. This effectively allows these (very) small business to outsource this department. Adsense auctions off ad spots in the time it takes to load the page in your browser — the blog writer doesn’t explicitly approve an ad and never knows for sure what ad will appear.

However, I’m not letting this take me off the hook. Adsense DOES allow site owners to actively block specific sites. If you see an ad on The Casual Observer that offends you, let me know (sending me an email with a screen shot works the best). I’m happy to review any ads and block them if appropriate. This is a bit of a game of cat and mouse (ironically, the linked gold article being the worst offender), but I’m happy to chase away a few mice for my readers.

Copyright © 2010 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

basicmoneytips April 2, 2010 at 4:19 am

I agree with you on the ads, they can be over the top at times. I have not cancelled any magazines because if it however. I think I have just learned to live with it.

At the end of the day I understand that it is part of their revenue stream. At least I do not find their ads as annoying as pop up ads on the internet.

Joe April 2, 2010 at 6:17 am

While I mostly agree with you, Kosmo, you also have to admit that magazine publishing is a hard business to be in right now and even reputable journals may have to allow advertisers that don’t necessary fit in to the content. These magazines are just trying to survive. Comparing magazine ads to blog ads is a false dichotomy; you have nowhere near the cost to publish your blog as magazine publishers do. They are employing dozens, even hundreds of people and printing thousands of magazines… that costs a lot of money.

But I absolutely hate ads, all ads, myself. The only journal I subscribe to right now is the literary journal The Sun, which is completely ad-free and supported by subscriptions and donations. As for the internet, I block all ads. Some people may be of the opinion that ads help blogs such as this one, and yours, survive. I think almost 99% of the ads I see on the internet are garish and annoying and always detract from the site I’m visiting. I’ll never click on an ad, they annoy me, so I block them. I’d much rather support sites through donations/subscriptions and recommending others visit… but even then, the content really has to be consistently worth it. If I ever print ads on my own blog, it will be very minimal and offering a product that I 100% endorse, such as a university or program related to my blog, and it won’t be about click-throughs or impressions. I just think anything else is a bit disingenuous.

ConsumerMiser April 2, 2010 at 8:25 am

Hmmmmmm. Silicon Valley Blogger, I love your posts and I agree with your end result, but I am not sure if I totally agree with your beef here. I agree more with Joe and basicmoneytips.

Sure, those ads for “rare” coins at inflated prices are deceptive and really should have a better disclaimer on them, but these magazines are unfortunately willing to take ad revenue from anywhere to survive. Similarly, distasteful ads will continue to appear because the line of what is taste is gray and depends on the viewer.

In the end, if we do not like the ads, we should do what you do and not buy the subscription. We could also write the magazine and give them feedback. And of course your post on the subject may have an impact as well.

Silicon Valley Blogger April 2, 2010 at 8:35 am


Thanks for your thoughts!

Just to clarify, it’s Kosmo who has the beef… 😉 and who shares his opinions here as our guest blogger. Personally, I don’t mind ads for the most part given that I’m quite good at ignoring things I don’t like or am not in agreement with… That is, I wouldn’t go so far as to cancel a subscription due to the advertising.

And as Kosmo did point out as one of his reasons — saving money actually IS the main reason why I cancel my subscriptions. That and the fact that clutter aggravates me. 🙂

Kosmo @ The Casual Observer April 2, 2010 at 9:32 am

@ Joe – I don’t have much of a problem with ads that don’t fit the content exactly. My problem with the “rare” coins is that this is borderline fraud. They even toss around terms like “selling to you at cost”, which obviously means there is a shell company in the middle. The Tiger Woods balls I just found to be in very poor taste, in addition to not be related to the content.

On the flip side of the comparison between blogs and magazine, I’m also not charging for my content. If a magazine is being distributed for free, I’ll be a lot more accepting of ads. I’m paying nearly 4 bucks an issue for Archaeology – so I’m going to hold them to a higher standard.

In any case, the reason for mentioning my blogs advertising wasn’t to suggest that the two industries are the same thing; it was merely to explain why people might see “bad” ads on my site from time to time, and to suggest that they report them to me so that I can block them. Alas, the ads aren’t anywhere close to keeping me afloat, though. I pay almost all costs out of my own pocket. And if you don’t like the fact that I don’t have a more firm control over my advertising, I’m OK with you using that as a reason not to return.

Pete L April 2, 2010 at 3:36 pm

What surprises me is that a company would choose to advertise something like the gold coins in an archeology magazine. Is that really the best use of their money? I’d love to know whether they get as many sales per dollar spent there, as they do when they advertise to less, um, sophisticated readers.

Personally, ads don’t bother me because I’m cheap enough that, in general, I’d rather get something free or at a reduced price with ads, than pay more for it without ads.

kosmo @ The Casual Observer April 2, 2010 at 6:08 pm

@ Pete – Bingo. Not to take a shot at readers of The National Enquirer, but you’d think they’d have a better shot at reeling in those readers as opposed to readers of science magazines. (I’m really trying to not sound like an elitest snob when I say that.)

ConsumerMiser April 3, 2010 at 7:37 am

Silicon Valley Blogger, thanks for the feedback. Sorry to confuse your post with Kozmo’s. And thanks for your additional thoughts on the topic. I agree that cutting the subscriptions is a great way to save money and to reduce clutter. That’s my main reason for not having any subscriptions at all–they create clutter and I can save money doing it. With the internet (and TV-I admit I watch the tube for politics, finance and sports), I can often get the same information for free, and the magazine info is often old or unoriginal anyway.

Bret @ Hope to Prosper April 4, 2010 at 12:46 am


I also receive Popular Science and have for years. My biggest problem with magazines is that you send them $20 for a subscription, then they send you two back issues and a renewal notice. They try to get you to renew six months before your subscription is up. I let P.S. lapse for five years once, just because I didn’t believe my subscription was up yet.

As for the advertising, that has always been sketchy, dating back to the metal-detector and solar panel ads in the ’70s. I don’t have a problem with the ads, as long as the magazine is straight with the reviews and commentary. I don’t trust the “Money” type magazines, because their fund recommendations are the same as their advertisers.

Jack Goldenberg April 4, 2010 at 1:34 pm

I think it’s very commendable that you took a moral stance and canceled your subscription. There’s no better way to protest against ads with dubious claims than to refuse to subscribe to publications that permit them.

I stopped listening to a NY-area talk radio because so many of their ads promoted fear and a “the world’s going to end” philosophy. While I realize they don’t miss me, at least I have the satisfaction of showing my disapproval, even if it only make me feel good.

Kosmo @ The Casual Observer April 5, 2010 at 5:59 am

@ Brett – Yeah, that annoys me, too. It always makes me think they could provide the magazine for $16 if they didn’t spend so much money on those mailings.

PS also annoyed me a bit with a “lookalike” subscription notice for Popular Mechanics, which I don’t subscribe to (nor would I ever subscribe too, since I have no interest whatsoever). My initial impression from that mailing was that they were trying to trick me into think it was a renewal for PS, due to the similarity of names. Maybe not.

TV Guide lost us as a customer last year (yes, TV Guide still has customers!) because the third party they used to get renewals was absurdly aggressive. It really woke my wife up to the fact that the TV guides ended up getting lost in the mail pile for months on end and were probably not a necessary expense. It also made her realize that you should NEVER provide your phone number when you subscribe to a magazine – there’s really only one reason they’re going to use that number. Details here:

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