Back in 2003 I had occasion, due my work in publishing, to meet with a mailing list broker.
Mailing list brokers are companies that work for magazine publishers. When you check the box to decline “from time to time we will send you valuable offers from our trusted marketing partners”, you’re telling them to leave you alone: they take publisher’s subscriber lists and sell them to third parties who might want to market to that group.
You can imagine, for example, that if you’re in the fishing tackle business, the list of people subscribing to Field & Stream is filled with just the kind of people who will buy your products. Or so the theory goes.
Learning about this business made me curious to know if I could use a mailing list broker to learn more about the subscribers to the one magazine that I subscribe to, The New Yorker.
As it happened the company that I met with also handled The New Yorker account and so I knew where to write. Here’s what I asked, with a mixture of authenticity and conceit:
I am the secretary to the Board of Directors of the L.M. Montgomery Land Trust, a non-profit land conservation charity in Prince Edward Island, Canada.
We would like to send a fundraising letter to subscribers of The New Yorker magazine who live in the province of Prince Edward Island. I’ve examined your web page on the magazine, but as we are amateurs unfamiliar with the language of list rental, I’m having difficulty figuring out what fees would be involved.
Can you tell me what the cost would be to our organization for one rental of Prince Edward Island-resident New Yorker subscribers?
Less than 24 hours later came the reply:
Unfortunately, there are only 25 subscribers to The New Yorker that reside in PEI. I’ve checked the Canadian Database, which is a compilation of all of the magazines published by Advance Magazine Group (the publisher that publishes The New Yorker), but there are only 209 subscribers in PEI. The minimum order size is 3,000 names. I’m not sure if there are other provinces that you would be interested in mailing into. If so, please let me know and I’d be happy to get those counts for you as well.
This was, perhaps, the most intriguing email I’ve ever received: I’ve spent the 13 years since, slowly and deliberately, trying to learn, by word of mouth alone, who those 25 subscribers are.
And Catherine Hennessey.
I was pretty sure that Harry Holman would have a subscription, wouldn’t he?
The public and university libraries would surely take up 4 or 5.
But who else?
From time to time, in the intervening years, I will meet someone at a party, and they’ll say something like “Oh dear, did you read that Talk piece by George Packer this week; wasn’t it droll!”1 and I’ll quietly take the list from my pocket2 and add their name.
I think I outed Susan Brown on Christmas Eve this year, but I may mis-remember.
Bob Gray just outed himself to me on Facebook.
All told I have probably accounted for 10 of the 25.
But who are the rest?
Please feel free to out yourself in the comments here.
Even if you don’t live on Prince Edward Island.
Perhaps I can cement up the list and organize some sort of gathering for us all. We could find a big wooden table in a corner somewhere and chat for hours about William Shawn and Tina Brown and our feelings about the reordering of the front matter. Apparently I’ll only need 25 chairs.
I'm on the list. we got it when I was a kid. It was an extravagance but as soon as I left home I subscribed. Learned a lot over the years
For completeness, from Facebook: Cynthia King and Jane Ledwell & Stephen B. MacInnis,
Peter - I expect I may make 26, or more. I wasn't here in 2003, but brought my subscription with me when I came back last year. My father loved the New Yorker, so there were always issues hanging around, as there are in our home now.
Yup. You remembered correctly. I have a subscription. It would be my Desert Island luxury. Looking forward to a future gathering at the PEI NY Round (or long) table!
You Forgot an S because it's gonna be a lot of people.
Hey Peter, I have been a subscriber since the early 90's. I did quit for a couple of years when Vanity Fair took over and it just wasn't the same. My favorite magazine, by far.
Me too, Peter. And I recognize some names on your list, so there's some organizing principle at work here. The late Kennedy Wells, a wonderful journalist, was also a subscriber. As I remember his bathroom was papered with old covers.