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:
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.