The great magazine subscription debacle

Or why I love blogging

Magazine subscriptions

Photo: Sytske R CC-By-2.0

It was like a scene in “A Christmas Story” — 9 year old Ralphie runs to the mailbox after school, hoping to find his “Little Orphan Anny” decoder ring. Then one day it arrives! Ralphie tears open the package as he runs to the one room in the house where a man can find privacy.

There was a time when I subscribed to nearly a dozen magazines. Every month I would receive in our mailbox various car magazines, gun magazines, bodybuilder magazines, etc. Not to mention the ones that I’d pick up at the grocery store every week. Each one a source entertainment, and information. Plus they gave me something to contemplate while in the “man’s library”.

The pattern was always the same. The beginning was to thumb through the pages–looking at the pictures and getting a feel for the issue. Next, I’d read the articles that caught my eye. This was then followed by a more thorough reading of the other parts as time permitted.

When finished, one of two things would happen. If there was an article that I would likely come back to, I may keep the whole issue, and in some instances I’d cut the article out and insert it in a 3-ring binder. More often than not, it would end up in the garbage (this was pre-recycling).

One day I had what you might call a revelation-the overall majority of what I found in magazines was complete and utter shit! The beauty part was that I was paying for it to be delivered to me every month.

The epiphany

It didn’t matter what the subject matter was. The car mags were always hyping the newest gadget that would make your car a tenth of a second faster in the ΒΌ-mile, or add .1G on the skid pad. Even the cars that were on display were nothing more than a list of name brand parts, and who installed them. My gun magazines were always going on about another new product that was coming out that pretty much did the same thing that the last one did, and none of which were as good as the one that John Moses Browning designed a hundred years ago.

There were the occasional nuggets of awesomeness. These were few and far between. Often, there was just enough to keep me coming back month after month. You would never find any objectivity though. None of them ever raked the companies over the coals because a product was complete garbage. After all, that could affect their advertising bottom-line.

The fitness and bodybuilding mags were the worst of all. It’s always about the newest supplement that will make you bigger, stronger, or faster. But if you pay attention, these are just one big advertisement, between the paid ads and the suck up ads disguised as articles and reviews.

Of course the fact that none of the claims that they make can be backed up with scientific data is left out. The FDA does not make supplement companies provide proof of their claims. That makes the supplement companies the modern day version of the snake oil salesman.

Some of these supplement companies are even owned by the publishing companies of the magazines. “Take Pill X to increase your squat by 200%”, by the little, teeny, tiny fine print that reads, “Pill X is proudly made by us.” No self-interest found there. Even the bodybuilders and athletes that say that they use these products are spokesman for these companies. Are these a legit source of information if they are being paid for what they say.

Do what Mr. Olympia does

After I became fed up with paying my hard-earned money for pages of advertisements, it got me to thinking back to earlier times. When I was in high school, just starting out with a regimented exercise routine, all that I had to go by was Pumping Iron, which turns out is a bit of a staged documentary, and the bodybuilding mags.

Every month the magazines would highlight the bicep workout of Lee Haney, or the quad workout of Tom Platz. (These references don’t date me, do they?). When you’re a budding gym rat, why wouldn’t you want to do what they do? After all, these were the best bodybuilders in world, and that’s what I wanted to look like.

What they didn’t tell the readers was that these examples were way too much for the average chump. They were horrible examples of what to do… or not to do. Over training, injuries, poor results-these were the results for many that followed their advice.

Still, all these magazines are still published, and purchased. Even better still, there are even more around.

Buyer beware

Don’t get me wrong. The mags are still entertaining. While I don’t subscribe to any magazines anymore, I do pick them up occasionally at the store, or when I’m traveling. I would just caution you to be wary about the information that you read there.

We have to be guarded about information received no matter where it’s coming from. Websites, blogs, etc. will potentially have a more honest review, or advice. But keep an eye on their motivations as well.

At PhitZone we use affiliate advertisers. I selected them based on two things; do I use them, and am I satisfied. If I think something sucks, I won’t peddle that crap. If you look in the archives, you can find our honest reviews. Some are good. Others might be bad. I have ripped products to shreds, in addition to going on about my man-crush on others.

It’s all about integrity. As bloggers, we value our readers above all else, even before making a buck. Can the magazines make that claim? I think not.

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7 Responses to “The great magazine subscription debacle”

  1. Brett says:

    I stopped my last magazine subscription, to Mens’ Health, because they’d write about how terrible it was to do or eat one thing (such as eating cashews, which was described once as “popping a fat pill”) and then six months later advocate the exact opposite (“cashews are a great source of necessary fat!”).

  2. Anne says:

    I agree with @Brett. The magazines are always contradicting themselves with articles. It drives me crazy, but I still buy them once in awhile. :)

    Great post, Todd.

  3. Tim says:

    While I still like to read magazines now & again, these things get on my nerves. I suppose that with so many different authors, and the comings and goings of editors, articles that contradict precious articles are bound to happen.

  4. Todd says:

    @Brett – Welcome. That’s a great point, and not one that I touched upon in writing this. Just one more reason that I hate magazines. hehe

    @Anne – For shame. You keep feeding the monster. ;)

    @Tim – I think you hit on something-staff writers have to submit work. Editors, while they should assure this doesn’t happen, come and go.

    Largely, I know that they have a business to run. I hate ads on tv, but know that companies have to make money. I still find that me paying $5 for a mag that is largely ads (and articles disguised as ads) wears me out.

  5. Hi Todd,

    (I formerly had a “woman library” not unlike your “man library” — too funny. But, I don’t subscribe to magazines anymore, either.)

    I think this is a valid and important point — and hadn’t really thought of this before regarding blogging vs. magazines.

    Agreed about supplements, too. When I was into body building in my late teens and twenties (Cory Everson was my heroine), somehow I had a feeling that the supplement industry was full of it. Once I actually DID order a supplement and it came with its own program.

    And, of course (!), when you follow an intense program and strict diet, it makes one think the supplements work, when really it’s the regime. I definitely lost body fat and became more “cut”, but it was because I was working out like a mad woman!

    Thanks for this post and for earning the trust of your readers by not promoting crap. You certainly have my readership.

  6. I too have a mini library. I agree, you can have to much product pushing and giving readers the wrong idea about what’s more important-taking a pill vs. hard work and a good diet. But I do like my magazine. I like the recipes and I get new ideas for exercises or training techniques. I subscribe to 2 “body building mags” and I use them for ideas but also look at what they are saying critically and with a healthy dose of skepticism.

  7. Todd says:

    @Lori – That’s exactly right. I believe there are some supplements, such as protein powder, that are legit. But there’s also a ton of garbage out there.

    I’m at odds with much of the fitness community in that I support the FDA getting involved in assuring the public that these things are both safe and do what they claim.

    @Pamela – You bring up a good point; there is still some good info in the bodybuilding/fitness magazines. I’ll admit, I will occasionally pick one up. Like you said, you see good ideas for exercise, etc. Plus, they give me good ideas to write about.

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