Caveat Emptor?

A behind-the-scenes reflection on surprises in the NOR mail bag



At the NOR, few times are as exciting as when responses from a direct mail campaign start rolling in. It takes a while for the responses to start coming, but when they do the office staff knows we’re in for a wild ride. As most readers know, print magazines are struggling to stay viable, and the New Oxford Review is no exception. Direct mail campaigns allow us to target a wide swath of the country that may be interested in a publication like ours. Sometimes it’s a hit, often it’s a miss. But there is always a sense of excitement and uncertainty as the mailbox fills up, and always plenty of hope.

What amazes me is when someone returns their slip of paper and check and it’s for a 3-year subscription. The vast majority of the responses are for a 1-year subscription, and after that it’s the sample copy that people want. That’s to be expected. For all the talk of “cancel culture,” America really epitomizes “sample culture.” No one wants to commit to anything blindly. Try on the clothes and shoes before you buy. Grab some free moisturizer and shampoo samples at the pharmacy. Sign up for the travel-size makeup subscription. Good grief, even Costco found a way to bring back food samples during a global pandemic!

Then, if you do commit to the full-size item, you don’t have to stress because you can always return it. The shoes actually give you blisters? Return them. That lotion smells too strong? Return it. Your cheese just doesn’t taste quite as you’d hoped? Return it! In the name of customer service, companies willingly take back your bloody shoes, half-used lotion, and nibbled cheese and issue you a full refund. Who would consider accepting anything less than 100% satisfaction? No matter that the goods can’t be re-sold or used by anyone else. Your disappointment, physical or mental, warrants a refund. And if you’re lucky, sometimes you don’t even have to return the item; just keep it and your account will be credited. I guess you can have your cake and eat it too, if you return it for a refund.

Living and, yes, participating in this “sample culture” has helped me anticipate the numerous requests for sample copies. Sometimes people go for the 1-year sub only to reconsider, line it out, and send in $3.95 for a sample. But even the uncertainty people have regarding a sample copy can be surprising. A particularly poignant message, a warning, was written across the top of one slip: “I might be interested.” A 1-year subscription had a similar admonition: “This will be a trial subscription.” Aren’t they all?

C’mon, it’s a magazine, not a steak-of-the-month subscription.

This is why the 3-year subscriptions are so surprising, and pleasantly so! In a time when no one wants to commit to anything, no one wants to relinquish their control or ability to back out at any given moment, a 3-year subscription is a breath of fresh air. It is a reminder that sometimes it’s worth it to take a chance, to let go of skepticism and dive in. A new 3-year subscription coming across my desk expresses a leap of faith.

Of course not everyone with a multi-year subscription will be 100% satisfied. But everyone with a multi-year subscription probably realizes that already. If you are expecting perfection, you will be disappointed, and a single issue is likely enough evidence. But many are the notes from subscribers stating that they don’t agree with everything published in the NOR, but they appreciate the different points of view, the various arguments and opinions. Those notes often accompany renewals.

For our readership, I am nothing but grateful; for the skeptics and long-haulers alike. But I just stand in admiration and awe of the 3-year subscribers, especially the new ones. Their willingness to commit to and support the NOR is inspiring.

Meanwhile, I’ve got some jeans to return.


Magdalena Moreno is a wife, mother of four, and Assistant Managing Editor for the NOR: opening mail, answering the phones and sending out renewals -- and now blogging, too!

From The Narthex

Laudate Deum: a Flawed Addendum

The new Apostolic Exhortation Laudate Deum is a follow-up document to Pope Francis's encyclical Laudato…

A Perilous ‘Compromise’

Roberto Dell’Oro, a Californian bioethicist at Loyola Marymount University, recently proposed a compromise on abortion…

History Puzzles & Providence

“Don’t mess with Texas!” Right, probably a mistake. There’s no doubt, though, that it’s folly…