"Something you get for nothing is usually worth it."
- Dian Ritter
I have a new watch. Oh, it's nothing like the dainty, gold-plated Bulova my parents bought me for graduation eons ago, but it keeps perfect time. It was also free.
Not a cent for the 1 1/2-inch dial, imitation leather band, sweeping second-hand which my $50 Bulova didn't have, or even the perennial "Postage and Handling" required by most cheapies and freebies offered continuously through the mail or TV. Also, unlike the Bulova, I don't have to wind this one. If the battery dies tomorrow, I've had Greenwich-Mean-Time precision for two weeks, absolutely free.
How did I get so lucky?
Did you ever try to unsubscribe from a magazine? Back when I had time to read for pleasure as well as research, I was a Reader's Digest subscriber. It's been a while, and there were other offers if only I would "please, come back," but this one was intriguing.
"Because you are a Preferred Subscriber" - I haven't even been a subscriber for 5-6 years - "we are willing to send you 12 issues of Reader's Digest well below the cover cost of $35.88 per year, or even our normal subscription rate of $27.98. We are offering you a full year's subscription for just $10. Also, as a thank-you gift, we'll send you a $19.98-value watch, absolutely free."
I jumped at the chance. The jokes are worth more than that. But an occasional article I might find interesting or informative, and the watch, too? That was the proverbial offer I couldn't refuse.
Chapter two: Along with my watch, the first issue of the magazine, and my bill for $10, came the following: Now, as a bona fide Preferred Subscriber, I was entitled to a complimentary shipment of four books "from top authors like James Patterson and Nora Roberts" as part of the Digest's new, "Select Editions" book club. I can read them, give them away, or keep them forever without charge. Naturally, if I like this idea, I can also receive similar shipments every few weeks for only $19.98 ...."
Oh, why not? With Christmas coming, the giveaway part really appeals to me, careful economist (skinflint?) that I am. I just hope I remember to cancel my Preferred Subscriber book club status before the next shipment arrives.
If your e-box is anything like mine, you're getting these offers, too. Only this week I learned I could have a $100 gift certificate at Red Lobster just for filling out a survey. Again, why not?
But after five pages and 20 minutes of work, I noticed the Lobster folks were asking a lot of personal questions, trying to enroll me in a dozen more surveys for other free offers, and still not telling me how to obtain my free meals. Even when I exited the survey they must have kept the pages I had already filled out, since another dozen "surveyors" have already found their way to my computer screen. I now hit "delete" immediately instead of spending time trying to recover my "free lunches, laptops, cures for baldness and dates with someone perfectly matched to my "older single" status.
I can understand the survey technique. Everyone is looking for a free lunch, at Red Lobster or somewhere, and most of us are still trying to prove economist Milton Friedman wrong when he told us there was no such thing.
But as pleased as I am about the low rate for my magazine, the books, and especially my new watch, I'm wondering if the print industry is truly falling on hard times. Despite the rise of mega books stores across the land, I hear, sales are down everywhere for newspapers, books and magazines. Like establishments formerly known as "drug stores," those supermarket-sized stores sell a lot of things besides books. You can get a cup of gourmet coffee, toys and games compatible with your favorite author/title theme, or the usual stationery items you could also purchase at a "drug store."
You can also find overflowing bins of books on sale - for less than the price of one shipment of Reader's Digest Special Edition books.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.