Kid at your door with a sob story selling magazines? Yeah, you might want to read this…

Back when we were living in Canton I can recall a time when I opened the door to find a young twenty-something man standing there looking a little ragged around the edges who had a sob story about how he was selling magazine subscriptions as a way to get back on his feet and straighten out his life. It was your typical I’ve-made-mistakes-and-now-I’m-working-a-crappy-job-to-get-right story. A tad sad, but with some hope tossed in. The story seemed a little odd so I asked a couple of questions and it became clear he was shifting his tale to try and tell me what he thought I wanted to hear. I grew somewhat suspicious and decided to say no thanks. That’s when his story made an abrupt change to one of how he was actually working his way through college and had only invented the sob story because he wasn’t making his quota and needed badly to land a few sales. At that point I was more than a little annoyed so I said no thank you again and closed the door. I must say I had some lingering doubts on whether I was being too harsh on the kid.

As it turns out it’s quite possible his second story wasn’t any more true than his first one. Or, quite possibly, the reality was even worse:

What Mainstream Publishers Don’t Want You to Know About Door-to-Door Magazine Sales – Houston Press

In the eight months the Press investigated door-to-door magazine sales across the country, the industry has seen at least three murders, one rape, two attempted rapes, one stabbing, one attempted murder, one vehicle fatality and one attempted abduction of a 13-year-old girl.

Interviews with former agents reveal a constant party atmosphere where agents have easy access — often thanks to their managers — to drugs. The agents come primarily from two populations: reprobates who need to leave wherever they are fast, and vulnerable kids from unstable families who believe that hopping into a van full of strangers is better than what awaits them at home.

[…] Agents are often driven across the country by managers whose driver’s licenses have been suspended or revoked. And while the industry’s trade group says it encourages member companies to conduct background checks, the crews are overflowing with agents with open warrants, extensive criminal histories and probation terms that prohibit them from leaving their home state. Since its inception in 1987, the National Field Selling Association has not only done nothing to clean up the crews, it has lobbied against proposed legislation that would implement the most basic of safety regulations and prohibit the hiring of underage employees.

While mainstream publishers and their trade group, the Magazine Publishers Association, say door-to-door sales account for a minuscule percentage of annual sales, this seemingly small percentage still translates into millions. It’s profitable enough to publishers like Condé Nast, Reader’s Digest and others that they still consider door-to-door sales a worthwhile venture in the 21st century. And without publishers’ participation, the industry would cease to exist. Which means, quite simply, that publishers have decided the collateral damage is worth the boost in circulation.

The following is a story of that collateral damage — of murder, rape, assault, overdoses and scamming — and the business decisions and lack of legislation that make it possible.

The whole article is an eye-opener and will probably make you inclined not to purchase magazine subscriptions sold door to door again. We’ve not been bothered by these sales crews since we left Canton and that’s probably because the neighborhoods where we are now are much more spread out compared to the density of the ones in Canton. I imagine once we get settled in Ann Arbor we’ll probably be seeing these kids again. Though I won’t have any lingering doubts about turning down the magazine offers from now on.

6 thoughts on “Kid at your door with a sob story selling magazines? Yeah, you might want to read this…

  1. These guys always seemed dubious to me.  I admit that when I was new to the big city of Dallas I took the bait and bought a couple of subscriptions from the first salesman that knocked on my door.  After I had a lot of trouble getting the magazines actually delivered I vowed to never again deal with them again.  I became much more leary of them after I started saying ‘no thanks’ to next couple that came along, their sales pitches would change and they’d start putting on the pressure, and no more sob story.  I’ve encountered only one of these salesman over the last three or four years, and I had a heck of a time getting rid of him, and then still felt bad for not helping someone with such a sad story.  Not any more, in fact I don’t think I’ll even open the door!

  2. I’ve heard something along these lines about door-to-door pushers long ago and it seems to be an international problem.

    As an unbendable rule, I do not conduct business, sign anything, or chat with solicitors.

  3. When I moved into my current apartment complex, my cat freaked out and ran away.  The next day I was walking around the area looking for him (never did find him, poor little guy) and walked through an apartment complex.  I passed two frat boy types, one of whom said “Checking the place out, huh, thief?”  I gave him a WTF? look and kept walking.  So I was very surprised when later that evening they came to my door to sell magazine subscriptions, with a tale about raising money for their fraternity.  They did not recognize me and thusly did not understand the cold reception I gave them.

  4. When I started living on my own in Germany as a 19-year old, I did once by a subscription from such people – for a major centre-left newspaper, to boot (which I had been looking at subscribing anyways, it should be said).

    Well, the troupe of people (three! seemed a bit of overkill) straightaway said that they were former “problem kids” trying to turn their life around in a work programme or such stuff. Not TOO pushy, but then I did show interest at buying something off them, so they wouldn’t have needed to be.

  5. Yeah, I always got the “I’m in a contest” pitch for the most part.  I put a “No Soliciting” sticker on the door, which has helped tremendously.  The pizza delivery guy actually asked permission to put fliers on our door, since we were customers and he said he got paid for all the fliers he delivered. 

    One guy came by on Dec 26 at dinnertime.  After I said “No thanks,” he asked why everyone on the street that actually answered the door was so rude to him at Christmas, since I was the only one who didn’t just slam the door in his face.  I explained that at that time, we were getting several kids a month selling magazines just like him.  I got the sticker for the door after that one.  Kinda felt bad for him, since it seemed to me as if he’d just started and was told “everyone loves magazines” before he started. 

    At college in the early 90s, there was a group that came on campus hiring kids to sell encyclopedias door to door over the summer.  It was basically find your own food, lodging, and spend 10 hours a day banging on doors to sell the books.  They played on the guys’ sex drives by talking about how they usually got propositioned by “lonely housewives” whilst out selling and that you were not to mess with any of that (nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more, say no more).

  6. about 9 months ago, I was 8 months pregnant This African American kid came to my door (we live in a very private neighborhood) and told me the exact story about college quota and how he desperately needs to sell some books. I bought almost $100 worth of nursery rhymes and princess stories for my daughters nursery. Its been 7 months and my books obviously never came in. I was a complete emotional mess at 8 months pregnant so I thoroughly felt bad fo this kid. now how do I go about suing these assholes?

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