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February 22, 2007 1:23 PM   Subscribe

“We’re selling magazines to earn points in a contest to win a trip abroad,” begins the standard spiel. At any given moment there are roughly 2,500 of these fresh-faced teens travelling across the USA hawking subscriptions for periodicals door to door. Welcome to the violent exploitative world of the Magazine Crews. via
posted by maryh (98 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
We read the New York Times here at MetaFilter!
posted by mr_roboto at 1:25 PM on February 22, 2007


That liberal raq?
posted by keswick at 1:28 PM on February 22, 2007


And the New York Times reads the Portland Tribune!
posted by danblaker at 1:32 PM on February 22, 2007


Heh. Didn't see the Tribune link. Never mind.
posted by danblaker at 1:33 PM on February 22, 2007


One of these kids came to my door when I lived in Atlanta, oh, 15 years ago. He was fresh-faced, earnest, and articulate, but he had a definite air of desperation about him. I seem to remember inviting him in and giving him a glass or water--guess that was a bad idea?
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:35 PM on February 22, 2007


What a Precious Moment TM for me- Baby's First Double Post. Delete away, admins. (And not everybody gets the NYT delivered to thier doorsteps, people.)
posted by maryh at 1:35 PM on February 22, 2007


I did this for a month in my youth. The article is definitely not an exaggeration.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:39 PM on February 22, 2007


Because I am ultra paranoid, I always assumed the kid selling magazines this was a cover for casing houses for burglary later.

It's much worse than I could have imagined.
posted by eisbaer at 1:44 PM on February 22, 2007


See the country! Smoke meth! Die alone! Sounds like fun, fuck selling knives!
posted by quarter waters and a bag of chips at 1:44 PM on February 22, 2007


I'm always conflicted when these kids show up at my door (and they do all the time).

I saw a 60 minutes about this years ago, so I know they're getting screwed. I don't want to support the business, but I know how fucked they are if they don't make quota. I generally offer a glass of water and send them on their way.

Sad.
posted by serazin at 1:49 PM on February 22, 2007


A few years ago, we had a guy get in our (allegedly secure) apartment building late one night and go around knocking on doors doing this. We were in apt. 1. We turned him down and closed the door, and for some reason decided I should loudly discuss with my SO the things I'd read before about how the crews get screwed, don't see their money, etc.

A few minutes later the guy knocked on my door again - said he'd overheard it all while he was knocking on other doors, and that no, he'd been doing this for a couple of years and it really wasn't like that, it was wonderful, etc. He was a nice guy, I guess, but he looked too skinny and scuzzy and I didn't believe him. The part with Stephanie Blake in the 3rd page of the NYT article reminded me of him - what might he have said if we'd pushed harder?
posted by dilettante at 1:51 PM on February 22, 2007


Can you tell us stories of your month in a crew IRFH? I would be interested to hear about it.
posted by ND¢ at 1:54 PM on February 22, 2007


I invited them in also, for fun. They claimed that it was some sort of nationwide competition to increase their public speaking skills, and that these skills include "making eye contact, not spitting or stuttering, and not cursing." I enjoyed their insane rhyming slogans, like, "Do you know why the I'm grinning? because I'm winning. Do you know why I'm smiling? because I'm styling." Anyhow, "Cheerleading Today" cost $55, so eff that.
posted by unknowncommand at 1:55 PM on February 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


I read this in the times yesterday, and it DID seem like something that belonged on metafilter more than newsprint...

...I know they're getting screwed. I don't want to support the business, but I know how fucked they are if they don't make quota.

I feel the same way about girl scout cookies.

Oh, and i remember selling magazine subscriptions as a kid, for a company called "Olympic." They had those ads in the comic books with pictures of all the prizes you could get. Never quite sold enough to get the 10-speed....
posted by TechnoLustLuddite at 1:59 PM on February 22, 2007


I think I'll print out the article and give a copy to the next kid who comes to my door.
posted by malaprohibita at 2:02 PM on February 22, 2007


Couple guys were doing this in the dorm I was in a while back. I said no the magazines, then they tried to sell me their rap CD, then some Pot. They actually said, "Dude, you got long hair, I know you must chief, we can get you the goods man, the good goods" I was kinda freaked out at the time. But "the Good goods" be came a running joke that still makes me laugh.
posted by magikker at 2:03 PM on February 22, 2007


Can you tell us stories of your month in a crew IRFH? I would be interested to hear about it.

Yeah, I'll probably pitch in bit, ND¢. I was waiting to see which thread was left, and now I'm supposed to be in a meeting (it's running late, but I don't suppose I'll be lucky enough for a cancellation).
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:09 PM on February 22, 2007


Think Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Only it was Reno.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:12 PM on February 22, 2007


"Good evening Sir, my name is Steve. I come from a rough area. I used to be addicted to crack but now I am off it and trying to stay clean. That is why I am selling magazine subscriptions."
posted by John Shaft at 2:12 PM on February 22, 2007 [4 favorites]


The Tribune article alludes to this van rollover that killed seven kids. The driver, who was convicted, was in his own way a victim of relentless schedules -- he had an unlicensed kid driving, then when they saw a cop, he tried to switch places in the moving full-size van on an Interstate highway. It was just north of my hometown. There's a local memorial [sentimental music].
posted by dhartung at 2:15 PM on February 22, 2007


Once my husband answered the door, and from the kitchen I heard some slut coo, "Ooohh, did anyone ever tell you that you look exactly like Colin Farrell?" I BURST out laughing and ran to the door to see who was there. It was one of these magazine kids. While we lived in those apartments, they would come around twice a year.

Like magikker's "Good goods", it became a running joke for us. Whenever we're getting the hard sell somewhere, I paw my husband and ask him if he knows he looks like Colin Farrell.
posted by peep at 2:16 PM on February 22, 2007


Interesting post, even if it is a double. Next time one of these magazine kids comes to my door, I'll suggest he join PIRG or the Mormons instead.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 2:21 PM on February 22, 2007


I invited them in also, for fun. They claimed that it was some sort of nationwide competition to increase their public speaking skills, and that these skills include "making eye contact, not spitting or stuttering, and not cursing." I enjoyed their insane rhyming slogans, like, "Do you know why the I'm grinning? because I'm winning. Do you know why I'm smiling? because I'm styling." Anyhow, "Cheerleading Today" cost $55, so eff that.
posted by unknowncommand at 4:55 PM EST on February 22


Holy crap, I heard the exact same rhyming slogans last summer.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:22 PM on February 22, 2007


25 years ago I was living in the middle of absolute nowhere in Michigan on a gravel road 5 miles out of a town of 600 and 2 hours from any place worth mentioning when a kid came wandering into my barnyard selling magazines. I gave him a beer, fed him some lunch, listened to his story, gave him some more beer, fed him dinner, put him up for the night, fed him breakfast, let him use my phone, packed him a nice lunch and my GF and I drove him the two hours to the city and bought him a Greyhound ticket back home to Johnsonville, Tennesee.
Didn't buy any magazines, though.
posted by Floydd at 2:25 PM on February 22, 2007 [16 favorites]


I had a kid give a monotone recitation of the pitch and, I shit you not, spit on my front step while waiting for me to respond.
I didn't buy an magazines.
posted by 2sheets at 2:31 PM on February 22, 2007


I did this exact same thing for a year when I was 22, except it was selling coupon books. Thats the only difference. Everything else they are saying here is absolutely true.

If you want to hear some real stories from people that went through this kind of MLM nightmare, you should check out the DS Max: The Aftermath boards

DS-Max is an MLM company that sends out these exact same sorts of crews, only schlepping coupons or crap merchandise instead of subscrips. Blagh. So glad I escaped out of that world. It really is like being trapped in a cult, and its harder to break out of than one might think.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 2:31 PM on February 22, 2007


peep writes "I heard some slut coo, 'Ooohh, did anyone ever tell you that you look exactly like Colin Farrell?'"

That finally got me to do an image search on Colin Ferrell, and I realized that for all this time, I thought Colin Ferrell was the guy in "Elf" and "Talladega Nights" (apparently "Will Ferrell"), and never understood why he was considered something of a looker.
posted by Bugbread at 2:41 PM on February 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


That finally got me to do an image search on Colin Ferrell, and I realized that for all this time, I thought Colin Ferrell was the guy in "Elf" and "Talladega Nights" (apparently "Will Ferrell"), and never understood why he was considered something of a looker.

And now I realize it's Colin Farrell (with an "a") for anyone else who wants to know. Sorry.
posted by peep at 2:49 PM on February 22, 2007


wow, i had these people come to my door once when i was in college. at first they seemed to really want to sell me magazines and then all of a sudden they seemed to change their minds and mostly want me to come back to their hotel and join their super awesome club. this freaked me out, but only in the way it normally does when a few guys i don't know who seem really high on something and strangely twitchy knock on my door and try to get me to go to a hotel with them. now it makes a little more sense...
posted by lgyre at 2:50 PM on February 22, 2007


uh, never mind. Sorry bugbread, I wasn't calling out your spelling error. I really thought I spelled it wrong in my first comment.
posted by peep at 2:51 PM on February 22, 2007


i'm with the drizzling florence above--i was involved with a similar outfit for about three months. it wasn't magazines, but some kind of household cleaner. but the rest is pretty much the same.

i was a runaway heading west when the crew picked me up while hitchhiking in new mexico. after being plied with various chemicals, they invited me to join. it was just a small crew--about 7 or 8 at first.

it wasn't bad for me, but i had a ace up my sleeve: i could sell. the first day i went out on my own, i outsold the rest of the crew. because of that i got the best treatment. there were several times that the head guy--someone only knew as 'rick' would take me out to make a few quick sales so we could get gas money to get out of town.

in phoenix, we joined up with a much larger crew. that's when i saw things get worse. i wasn't involved in it, but apparently they actually kidnapped a waitress to bring into the organization. a pattern began to emerge: we'd go to a new metro area, spend a few days, one of the crew would get beat up pretty badly, and then we'd flee in the night. once we made it to southern california, it got more intense--there were more places to hide, and new people brought in. that's when i learned that the bigger crew we had joined up with was really into burglary.

my time with them ended in las vegas. we had stayed too long, and the vegas cops were on to the method of operation. i got picked up driving in a van that was looking for another sales person that had disapppeared.

rick's girlfriend actually showed up in juvie to give me my stuff. i was surprised when she handed me a twenty along with my backpack. of course, the rest of the crew had gone through all my stuff, and i lost all my camping gear, replaced by some dirty towels.

it wasn't bad for me, bucause i could sell. didn't have to do thge nightly sales meetings. didn't have to sleep on the floor, or in the van. and they were happy with me just selling because i was making it work out.

i wasn't aware that this was more widespread until a couple of years later when i was working in a homeless shelter as a counselor. we had a couple of kids who stayed for a few days who were refugees from a similar organization. we swapped stories, and it was exactly the same.

ah. brings back memories of a time in my life that is so distant now. and it's also why i removed the 'no soliciting' sign from my front door when i bought my house.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 2:58 PM on February 22, 2007 [15 favorites]


Understatement of the Month Nominee Goes to:
"The beatings were also unsettling."
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:03 PM on February 22, 2007


M.C. Lo-

Please please please do not suggest someone join a PIRG.

The only interest the Public Interest Research Groups are serving is Satan's.

After a summer with them a few years back, I can tell you they were plenty exploitative and, I'd venture to say, more nefarious than the magazine crews. Save the oceans my ass.

Lies.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 3:05 PM on February 22, 2007


Allways call the cops when these crews are in your neighborhood. The kids are being exploited and the bastard in the van needs to get busted.
posted by joseppi7 at 3:14 PM on February 22, 2007


Yet another story about something that I never even imagined. Getting kids to fight eachother when they don't meet quota? What the fuck?

I had a kid come to my door selling magazines awhile ago, and just assumed, because I don't know any better, that he actually, you know, lived around the neighborhood or something.

I would not have guessed that he was part of some drug-addled "crew" traveling the nation. What the hell.
posted by odinsdream at 3:16 PM on February 22, 2007


Allways call the cops when these crews are in your neighborhood. The kids are being exploited and the bastard in the van needs to get busted.

Yeah thats true, but youd really just be saddling the kids with a fine they couldnt pay or a court date they couldnt be in town for. Thats just gonna push them further into the fold.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 3:19 PM on February 22, 2007


I got involved with some shady outfit like this in West Sacramento many moons ago. They were basically peddling magazine subscriptions and whatever cheap trash they could import from China. Toys, pirated books, etc. At the main office, everyone was expected to be at the morning "sales meeting" that was complete with ridiculous bullshit like 'company cheers' and stuff. I stood there thinking "These people are complete morons." A co-worker was always telling me "Come on, man! Get excited!" to which I replied "How can I get excited about being a fucking peddler?"
We were told that we were going on a 'business trip' but when we got to the destination city, we all (about 10 of us) ended up in a shitty low budget motel. We were expected to walk door to door and sell this *crap* for 12 hours a day. There were a few people that were really excited and thought they were going to be part of something huge and were going to make piles of cash. (It didn't happen.) No benefits at all, no sick time, no vacation time, and you weren't paid until the end of the week.
After a few weeks of this, I said "You know, this is bullshit." and grabbed my bag of clothes and walked out. Some 'manager' tried to give me a lecture about how I was letting the company down and what a disappointment I was. I told him to take his job and shove it and kept walking.

I ended up taking Amtrak back home.
posted by drstein at 3:21 PM on February 22, 2007


Juiced by you drstein! (If youre scratchin your head, thats the requisite cheer alot of these cults have0

Greetings from (I guess East...er Downtown) Sacramento.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 3:29 PM on February 22, 2007


Cheers, peep, on the accidental spelling correction. Now I know the face, and the correct spelling of the name.
posted by Bugbread at 3:44 PM on February 22, 2007


These kids seemed to often be on campus when I was in college, and the one encounter I had was like this: (I) heard some slut coo "Ooohh, did anyone ever tell you that you look exactly like Colin Farrell?" Only it was a dude and, fortunately, since I am female, he did not tell me I look like Colin Farrell. He had a vaguely sinister vibe in that Chesire Cat kind of way.
posted by Airhen at 3:56 PM on February 22, 2007


Okay - here's mine: Joined up with a magazine crew when I was 17. The deal was, for the first month, room and board was comped to the extent that, if you didn't make quota, you didn't owe the house, but you also didn't get any of the money you made. If you made quota or above, you'd get a little spending money most weeks. I was also guaranteed a bus ticket home from anywhere.

First day, we worked 14 hours, hung out for an hour or so at a very smoky after party, then I shacked up with three other kids in a shitbag Motel 8. I was stuck in a twin bed with a world-class onanist. Didn't sleep too well.

Second day, after working 14 hours, we crammed all of our belongings into a couple of U-Haul Trailers and drove all night from the Pacific Northwest to Carson City, Nevada. The driver, who had also worked all day, was drunk, stoned, and on acid. As we pulled into Carson City, he thought the lines of streetlights were strings of jeweled snakes following us.

We spent the next month working Nevada and California, 14 hours a day, 6 days a week. There were beatings (not me), disappearances (one guy stole from the company, was beaten, and then we were never allowed to speak his name aloud again, or ask why he “left” without his stuff), jailings for various and assorted reasons (again, not me). At every new town, one of the staff members already had a drug supplier lined up and waiting for us when we got there. We also had an informal “program,” known as “Points for Joints,” which was where we informed open-minded-seeming potential customers that we not only got points toward the “Trip” we were trying to win for selling subscriptions, but we also got “Points for Joints.” Many customers were charmed to oblige. Actually, many homeowners were happy to offer us any range of goods and services.

One particularly memorable moment involved speeding down a neighborhood street while one of our crew vaulted over a backyard fence and chased us down the street while trying to pull up his pants. It was the classic “husband comes home and catches his wife with the salesman” moment, and it was straight out of the movies, and I saw it happen (also wasn’t me).

I also had my first experience with cockroaches crawling out my food with this crew in a dive in South San Francisco.

I was a terrible salesman because I couldn’t bring myself to hard-sell people who couldn’t afford it, and because I just didn’t care. Ultimately, after my month of indentured servitude was up, I asked for my bus ticket and a ride to the station, and was mildly surprised when they actually followed through.

It was eye-opening, I suppose. But there were strange moments of great beauty and kindness throughout that balanced the whole thing more than you'd suspect. Or maybe it was just the drugs.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:14 PM on February 22, 2007 [16 favorites]


Jeez, that's rough. Seems like if you don't give them money, they get beaten up; and if you do, you're encouraging them to spend more time with a bunch of loser junkie probably-std-ridden cultheads.
posted by carter at 4:17 PM on February 22, 2007


When I was like ten, I sold magazines or candy or something to raise money for my school's chess club.

...I never did get my chess set for meeting a goal. Only as chess clock, which I recently threw out because one of the springs broke and damaged the clockwork.
posted by Target Practice at 4:17 PM on February 22, 2007


Metafilter - Stuck in a twin bed with a world-class onanist.

(Forgive me if I formatted that wrong. Its my first one of these)
posted by Senor Cardgage at 4:18 PM on February 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


jeez, flo, your outfit sounded somewhat organized compared to mine.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 4:20 PM on February 22, 2007


Actually, "organized" is precisely the exact word I was struggling to imply without ever using.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:24 PM on February 22, 2007


You know, now that I've read the thread, my comment about school fundraisers feels really silly.
posted by Target Practice at 4:28 PM on February 22, 2007


I'm not sure I understand why this is such a widespread problem.

I'm from northern NJ and have lived in Fairfield County, CT.
The rare times you see any people soliciting, you just call the cops and they just run them out of town.
posted by wfc123 at 4:34 PM on February 22, 2007


I remember seeing a Swedish guy, probably around 18, on a bike everyday for a couple of months trolling the neighborhoods He was selling a children's educational magazine or booklets. He came to my door once, I politely declined, and he stood on my doorstep for a good 5 minutes after I shut the door. I knew something wasn't right, the kid looked desperate.
posted by LoriFLA at 4:43 PM on February 22, 2007


I'm from northern NJ and have lived in Fairfield County, CT.
The rare times you see any people soliciting, you just call the cops and they just run them out of town.

That's why it's a problem. The cops run them out of town before the cops notice that they're exploiting kids and beating them. And then there somewhere new, where no one knows, etc.
posted by Airhen at 4:47 PM on February 22, 2007


Jeebus. Is this a solely American phenomenon? I've never heard of such a thing. *scratches head*
posted by jokeefe at 5:04 PM on February 22, 2007


run them out of town is not a concept that would ever be feasible in any of the many places I have lived.
posted by Frasermoo at 5:04 PM on February 22, 2007


In many places there were "arrangements made" with the local constabulary.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:08 PM on February 22, 2007


A few years back my roomates girlfriend applied to a job in the newspaper for a marketing position and after telling us she was going to an interview called us crying and asked us to pick her up. In another city about 45 minutes away.

While driving to get her she told us that part of the interview was for them to be observed doing direct sales (door to door with a box of crappy overpriced goods) she was hesitant but went along with it for an hour before deciding it was shady and then asked to be taken home. They became very aggressive and told her she owed them money for the unsold goods and compensation for the gas!

We picked her up and then drove around and found the crew and the guy who was in charge. Words were said and punches were thrown and we actually ended up driving a few others home - they were all scared girls who hadn't walked away because they were pretty much too embarrassed to call home and ask for help.
posted by jeffmik at 5:27 PM on February 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


I've seen these vans with kids selling candy from Rubbermaid tubs, and I knew a guy who sold "books" in a scam very much like this, but hadn't put the two together--I had no idea it was so national.

Is organized crime involved, I wonder, or is it just a small time hustle?

This is just another reason to outlaw juveniles selling anything door to door. Schools need to demand better funding and stop pimping out the band kids to sell crap, and we need a law to go after these sleezebags. And programs to put these kids into. I'm sure prostitution goes on too, rape, we know there's kidnapping, drugs, and beating.
posted by emjaybee at 5:43 PM on February 22, 2007


I've never heard of this until that Times piece. It seems to be a middle America thing. Most towns here have "no soliciting" signs posted at the borders. I'm sure the cops here know about the exploitation etc.. but they just don't want to deal with it.
posted by wfc123 at 6:08 PM on February 22, 2007


I. Just. Had. One. At. My. Door.

I kid you not, at past 9:00 PM. So much for my plan to give him a copy of the Times article. I was actually nicer than I usually am because of it though.
posted by malaprohibita at 6:57 PM on February 22, 2007


Like many commenters, I had never heard of this before reading this article. Scary.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:06 PM on February 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


When I was at LSU, my roommate and I fell for the sales pitch from a pretty girl and we each bought magazine subscriptions. About a week later, I started to get the vague feeling we'd been scammed. When our magazines didn't arrive in the next two months, I knew we'd been taken, but my roommate refused to believe we'd been lied to. He kept calling the "subscription help line" on the receipt we'd gotten and they gave him a long string of excuses and "Oh it's coming"s.

Two years later, I got 7 Esquire magazines all at once. I could never figure out why they came like that. Reading this thread, I can imagine that their scam was busted and after fighting it for a little while, the company was forced to ante up at least some of the magazines, rather than face jail time. That may or may not be the case, but it's the only answer that makes sense now.
posted by ColdChef at 8:12 PM on February 22, 2007


One of these kids ended up face down in my driveway not too long ago, begging for his life after a neighbor he had scammed drove up and pulled a gun on him.

Seems like he was a bit too good a salesman. He was collecting information at each house he talked to, and going around the neighborhood pretending to have just moved in. He was dropping names, job descriptions, and anecdotes about the people he had already talked to, and did a great job making it sound believable.

He got caught after another neighbor had regrets about buying some overpriced magazine, and called his "father" (who really had just moved in) to see if she could get her money back. This guy got pissed that this teenager was pretending to be his kid to sell his crap.

The cops came and sorted it all out before anyone got hurt, but it made for quite the scary evening.
posted by JohnYaYa at 8:14 PM on February 22, 2007


I had one come to my door last year. As I opened the door, he was holding my wireless thermometer thing, entirely transfixed.

"Seventy-two degrees. Woah." Then he looked at me. "Oh, I guess you don't want to buy a magazine."

Now I understand.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:14 PM on February 22, 2007


I will add that the kid who came to my door gave me a story about being home-schooled and how his dad was making him do this to work on his public speaking skills. He said the money was for a trip overseas for some educational function.

At the time, I couldn't figure out why he was just so fucking weird during the whole thing. Any kind of atypical questions I asked really jarred him.

This is all so much clearer, now.
posted by odinsdream at 8:50 PM on February 22, 2007


I don't condone the shoddy and/or violent treatment of these kids on the magazine crews, but honestly who the fuck thinks that this sounds like viable employment. These huckster gigs have been around since before Grit--and while Grit was nominally clean & upright, the rest of the field has been shady since day one.

And whether you are on the selling side or the buying side, are you not aware of many other ways to safely & economically subscribe to any magazine you desire?

Do you participate (in buying or selling through this channel) because you have some quaint notion of reinforcing the Great American Business Model? If so, you all belong with the guy face down in the driveway with a gun to the head, pants half mast and a bus ticket to Reno in your hand.
posted by beelzbubba at 9:06 PM on February 22, 2007


I absolutely HATE door-to-door solicitors.

It's a very, very aggressive action. Showing up, at someone's home, and prodding them to buy something they have shown no interest in buying.

I have always said "Not interested, thank you" and closed (not slammed) the door, and hoped they didn't come back at 2am through a window.

A couple of years ago a guy showed up hawking children's books. My wife answered the door, and I was on the phone. By the time I got to the door she (a trusting sort) had agreed to purchase some pack of books, and gave the man a check for $40, and he promised to return in "2-3 weeks" with the books.

I laughed at her and told her how she had been had and that she might as well have given $40 to the dog.

About a week and a half later, same guy shows up and delivers the books, along with a "free gift" and offers his thanks for the order.

The books were very high quality, and given the number we received, including the gift, $40 was more than a fair price.

So I guess you really never know. She must have got the 1 guy out of 100 who was legit. I've since implored her to not press her luck and never deal with these characters again.

Floydd, that's a great story.
posted by Ynoxas at 9:27 PM on February 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


Well, in my own defense, beelzbubba, my dark tale took place over 25 years ago. It was a different time, then. We were all sick to our dirty little souls of warmongers and profiteers, deeply ashamed of our country's leaders, and pretty damn sure that the world would be ending any day now, and good riddance, too. We were all about going out with goofy-ass smiles on our faces, and we didn't really much care if we had to sell a few dozen subs to Sunset Magazine to see the party to its logical fiery conclusion. Just our luck, though: the end-of-the-world was the same lame New-Years-Eve-Without-A-Date that it always is, and sure enough, the bill came due after all. Now all we have left is vague memories of punk-dystopian travelogues and early-onset emphysema.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:32 PM on February 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


wow, Never knew about this subscriptions underworld. Thanks for the fascinating and disturbing post maryh.

Magazine subscriptions seem innocuous, I guess that's the camouflage. Organised crime and subscriptions, whoda thunk?

But then the advertisers who fund the magazines in the first place are using the cult mindset to sell products, ie cult branding: examples.

Another weird combo is organised crime and window replacements.

Having been a runaway as a kid I can imagine other naive and inexperienced runaways looking for work and getting caught up in this culty scam.

A brilliant movie about the selling vinyl siding door-to-door scam business, Tin Men.

The Amway cult.
posted by nickyskye at 9:33 PM on February 22, 2007


I absolutely HATE door-to-door solicitors.

It's a very, very aggressive action. Showing up, at someone's home, and prodding them to buy something they have shown no interest in buying.


Seconded.

I won't buy from any door-to-door salesman on principle, regardless of what they happen to be hawking, and how good a deal it might be. So much so that I paid through the nose for utilities for years, because I wouldn't deal with the people who were selling the newly deregulated services.

There are several reasons why I won't buy at the door:

1.) If I want a product, I'll do the research and make an informed decision. I won't buy without having done that.

2.) Good products sell themselves. They don't need hustlers pitching them door to door.

3.) The commission on door-to-door sales is generally too high. It has to be to compensate people for all those pitches that they make that don't pan out.

4.) I don't *want* assholes disturbing me to try and pitch me something that I don't want.

5.) It's a disreputable way of marketing anything, and I don't want to encourage it in any way, shape or form.

Consequently, I strain to remain polite when I refuse to hear their pitch. Any resistance to my refusal and I let them have it with both barrels -- starting with how they should get themselves a real job, rather than one that subjects them to ongoing humiliation, numerous times every day.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:04 PM on February 22, 2007


I refuse to belive this exists until Larry Clark makes a movie about it.
posted by billyfleetwood at 10:08 PM on February 22, 2007


I had two clean-cut cheerleader types show up at my door one morning (in a complex in south Denver ) right after I moved in thirteen years ago. I couldn't figure out what they wanted (neighbors? welcome wagon?) until they started pushing the magazines. I didn't buy any. Sometime later a pustulated kid knocked on my door wanting to know if I'd gotten my paper that morning...after that the association installed buzzers.
posted by brujita at 10:50 PM on February 22, 2007


Flo, you said that was 25 years ago, but with the warmongering and profiteers, that time was different from now in what way exactly?
posted by Brittanie at 11:30 PM on February 22, 2007


Yeah - that was the comparison I was going for.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:14 AM on February 23, 2007


You and your subtleties.
posted by Brittanie at 12:25 AM on February 23, 2007


I had one of these kids show up at my house a couple of years ago. I politely declined and he just started rambling. I got the whole "you know why I'm smiling, you know why I'm grinning" spiel. I had to tell him to leave a couple of times. (Thank goodness for wrought iron screen doors.) It seemed like he was on drugs - now that seems like a real possibility. The dog barks angrily and incessantly at anyone who knocks on the door; this was one time where I didn't try to shut her up. It felt like this kid was casing the house, not selling things.
posted by azpenguin at 12:43 AM on February 23, 2007


I had an individual try to sell me magazines last summer. When I told him I wasn't interested, he asked "Is it because I'm black? I'm trying to improve my situation. Don't you want to help somebody from the inner city?"

My jaw dropped for a second, and then I replied "Of course it's cause you're black! Now please leave."

What a pushy prick.
posted by Sukiari at 3:44 AM on February 23, 2007


25 years ago I was living in the middle of absolute nowhere in Michigan on a gravel road 5 miles out of a town of 600 and 2 hours from any place worth mentioning

hey, i'm sure i've been by there! what was the town of 600?
posted by quonsar at 4:28 AM on February 23, 2007


A brilliant movie about the selling vinyl siding door-to-door scam business, Tin Men.

er, that would have been aluminum siding. but yes, a brilliant movie.
posted by quonsar at 4:30 AM on February 23, 2007


There is a novel about this called The Ethical Assassin. They sell crummy encyclopedias though, and not magazines.
posted by jvilter at 5:57 AM on February 23, 2007


well, mr mcdermott, i can see you have never sold anything. and door to door sales is a 'real' job, in case you never bothered to look. just because you don't want to do it doesn't make it real.

humans live in communities, which require interaction with our fellow humans. people have been selling for quite some time now, and your annoyance isn't going to change anything.

remember that the person on the other side of your screen door does have a 'real' job, whether you think it is or not. they're trying to make a living just like the rest of us. don't make it harder on them by being an asshole.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 5:57 AM on February 23, 2007


Next time one shows up at your door, watch for this trick: The "salesperson" will be carrying an order book, laminated sheet or flyer and hand it to you. Your natural reaction will be to take it.

Don't! That's their hook, and they won't take it back unless you force it on you. You'll end up there standing in your doorway, talking to them, until they wear you down.

I too got hooked into something similar, but it involved selling photo processing (shows you how long ago that was). They presented themselves as a legit, sales training organization, but we ended up hitting apartment complexes and leaving "prize tickets" at each door, then return for the pitch. If I remember correctly, I did it for only 2 or 3 days, and did end up the sales leader of our group, but I hated it and bailed with them owing me a couple of hundred bucks.

My experience was nothing like these kids go thru, but I can see how desperate people can get sucked in.

I'm still not buying anything from anyone that knocks on my door that I don't already know.
posted by cptnrandy at 5:59 AM on February 23, 2007


I had a guy come to my house to sell magazines recently. I was in the driveway, about to get my kids out of their carseats, when he came running up. He was wired, and I had a tough time getting him to go. He was offended that I kept my car door between us.

He did the "earning points to win a vacation" routine. I told him I wasn't interested. Then it switched to how I could buy magazines to "support our troops in Iraq." Stilll not interested. Then abruptly he ran away.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:24 AM on February 23, 2007


Note to self: Never complain again about that cushy summer you spent selling Cutco to doctors and lawyers in the rich Maryland suburbs.
posted by Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson at 6:46 AM on February 23, 2007


PeterMcDermott writes "I let them have it with both barrels -- starting with how they should get themselves a real job, rather than one that subjects them to ongoing humiliation, numerous times every day."

I'll let my old maths teacher know that you don't consider teaching in a public school a "real" job, because he sold encyclopedias door to door during the summer to supplement his meagre teacher's salary.
posted by Bugbread at 6:52 AM on February 23, 2007


The best movie about this is the Maysles brother documentary Salesman, which is a Criterion DVD, I think. I remember going to an "interview" at a place selling CD's to find 30 other kids my age, we were all hired and went to downtown Toronto to shadow experienced salesmen as they plied their wares out of giant hockey bags. When one of them mentioned how we would have to be quick to avoid the security guards in one office tower, I said later. I used to see them all over the place in Toronto. There were also the stereo speaker salemen out of non-descript white vans. A vanishing breed.
posted by phirleh at 7:16 AM on February 23, 2007


bugbread: I'd be happy to do it if Peter doesn't.

Your math teacher had a college degree, there are certainly other things he could do for the summer besides the comically cliched "door-to-door encyclopedia salesman".

He must have found something he liked about it, and if he did it more than once, it must have been worth his time and effort. I could probably find something to like about selling crack to minors, and I'm quite sure it would be worth my time and effort. That doesn't make it any more admirable. I'm sure his spiel was something like "I only sell encyclopedias during the summer, the rest of the year I am a school teacher, so I know how important having a set of encyclopedias at home is to your child's education".

Plus, life has changed. If this was 30 years ago, then it wasn't quite so weird. Remember, a few decades ago we had things like milkmen and house-calls by doctors.

But if this is since 1990, yeah, door-to-door selling is a scourge, a blight, and as I said above, very aggressive.

Conversely, I don't mind street vendors at all. They are not at your house, and have no mechanism to "make" you talk to them or interact. Someone selling woven rugs on the side of the road? More power to them. I might even stop to look, depending on my mood. Street vendors, roadside stands, flea marketers, hey, free enterprise, god bless 'em.

Someone trying to sell me a woven rug on my doorstep, with no indication that I've ever wanted or been interested in woven rugs? No thanks. Go away. I will never buy from you, ever.

See the difference? I have nothing against sales as a profession. I sometimes need to buy things, and it helps if there are people to sell it to me.

But honestly, telemarketers are a huge step higher on the respect chain than door-to-door salesmen, and look at how they are regarded. They are a huge pain in the ass, but at least they only call, not show up on your doorstep asking for water or to use the bathroom.

Do print encyclopedias even exist anymore? They have always seemed fantastically expensive, and given the web and the speed of knowledge becoming obsolete, I can't imagine it is a viable business model any longer.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:44 AM on February 23, 2007


Ynoxas writes "If this was 30 years ago, then it wasn't quite so weird. Remember, a few decades ago we had things like milkmen and house-calls by doctors.

"But if this is since 1990, yeah, door-to-door selling is a scourge, a blight, and as I said above, very aggressive."


Ok, fair point. It was about, I dunno, 19 or 20 years ago. Plus, I haven't lived in a house or apartment in the States since 1992 (1992 to 1996 was a college dorm, so it's a little divorced from the realities of door-to-door salesmen), so I'm probably pretty out of touch with modern reality.
posted by Bugbread at 7:51 AM on February 23, 2007


I sold encyclopedias door-to-door back about 20 years ago when I lived in North Carolina. They were cheap, shoddy encyclopedias and the sample book that we used was full of misspellings and inaccuracies. They would take us around in a van and drop us off at trailer parks to sell these crappy encyclopedias. People would invite me in to give my spiel, and give me wine and dope. It was kind of fun, actually, but I didn't make any money at all because I was a crappy (and stoned) salesman. I only did it for about two or three weeks, until I found more reputable employment as a bartender.

I have sympathy for the door-to-door salespeople. They usually have fallen on hard times. I don't ever buy anything from them, though.
posted by Cookiebastard at 7:53 AM on February 23, 2007


Canadian magazine sellers stay at the same hotel as Stompin' Tom. This company was posting on the Human Resources Canada job boards a couple months ago.

On their site they prominently point to their support for Victims of Violence. It's an organization founded by the Rosenfeldts, the most public of the families who had a child murdered by Clifford Olson.

From the FAQ on their site:
As an organization concerned with the safety of young people, why do you have young people involved in a door-to-door campaign?

Any of the persons involved with our door-to-door campaigns are of legal age to do so. They are all always supervised and accompanied by an adult who may have 5 workers on a block, who then assigns each worker to a house. So, they are monitored and their whereabouts is always known by the supervisor. We would never, nor would we ever condone young persons going door-to-door on their own without a responsible adult supervising and knowing their whereabouts at all times. We have also received complaints about workers being out in cold weather, the employees are given a choice and do not have to work at all if the weather is -10. If they choose to work, that is completely up to them and they are allowed to warm up in the supervisors van as much and as long as they like. Please keep in mind that these are all individuals who want to work and are making an honest living as well as gaining experience. We have also found it difficult in the past to find adults who want to do this sort of work. Many people feel more comfortable opening the door to an unknown youth rather than an unknown adult.
posted by TimTypeZed at 8:24 AM on February 23, 2007


funny that everyone talks about hating it and never buying. in my experience, door to door was always more lucrative then telephone. and a lot more interesting.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 8:26 AM on February 23, 2007


We've covered something like this before, only with speakers.

I remembered that after phirleh's comment. God, I've been lurking here too long...
posted by 1f2frfbf at 8:37 AM on February 23, 2007


remember that the person on the other side of your screen door does have a 'real' job, whether you think it is or not. they're trying to make a living just like the rest of us. don't make it harder on them by being an asshole.

Sure. But if I tell them once or twice, politely, "No," and they keep being pushy, then it's them that are being assholes. I give $s to panhandlers, the guys on the medians at mall exits, and so on, but if some tweaky kid refuses to get off my doorstep and tries to stop me from getting back to cooking / reading / chatting with the missus / whatever it was I was doing before I was interrupted, I'm going to get annoyed.
posted by carter at 9:29 AM on February 23, 2007


When it comes to the speaker salemen working out of vans, the old axiom "you can't con an honest man" holds true.
posted by joseppi7 at 11:48 AM on February 23, 2007


I'm amazed at what trouble so many people have with door to door salespeople. If there's a knock at my door and I am not expecting someone I simply employ my sure-fire strategy that keeps me from being bothered - I don't even get up.

Then again, I have a classic Ms Manners attitude about the politeness of people who show up unannounced and how I have no obligations to them. This might make me a bit abnormal.
posted by phearlez at 12:12 PM on February 23, 2007


phearlez writes "If there's a knock at my door and I am not expecting someone I simply employ my sure-fire strategy that keeps me from being bothered - I don't even get up."

I wish that would work with me. In reality, it would mean that I'd miss getting packages all the time (stuff I ordered but forgot I ordered, or stuff my wife bought on net auctions, or registered mail from my translation agency, or packages from my parents, or unexpected gifts from friends, etc. etc.) So I pretty much have to respond to the door all the time.

But, then again, this is Japan. Even the smallest apartment has an intercom, so while I have to respond, I don't have to actually go to the door itself, let alone open it. Makes turning away the Jehovah's Witnesses and TV tax folks much easier.
posted by Bugbread at 12:35 PM on February 23, 2007


"I'll let my old maths teacher know that you don't consider teaching in a public school a "real" job, because he sold encyclopedias door to door during the summer to supplement his meagre teacher's salary."

Did you stop beating your woman yet? Yes or no answer please.
posted by Sukiari at 4:34 PM on February 23, 2007


Sukiari : "Did you stop beating your woman yet? Yes or no answer please."

I think you're barking up the wrong tree. I'm not the one making the loaded statement that if one sells door to door, one does not have a real job. That was PeterMcDermott:

PeterMcDermott : "I let them have it with both barrels -- starting with how they should get themselves a real job"

So in this case, it's more like:

"Anyone who works in a patent office is an idiot."

"Ah. I'll let my scientist friends know that Einstein was an idiot, then."

The second statement is not the loaded statement. It's a snarky rebuttal of the first statement, which is loaded (or, more accurately, just plain false).
posted by Bugbread at 8:40 PM on February 23, 2007


bugbread: Oh come on. Surely you see that he was referring to the "door-to-door" part being "not the real job" and not the math teacher part, which he could never know about, and something introduced after the fact.

What, am I suppose to assume door-to-door salesmen are just doing it on a lark, and usually are tax attorneys or machinists as their "real job"?

Sukiari is right on.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:50 AM on February 24, 2007


Ynoxas writes "What, am I suppose to assume door-to-door salesmen are just doing it on a lark, and usually are tax attorneys or machinists as their 'real job'?"

Nope. You were supposed to assume that the vast, vast majority of door to door salesmen should go out and get real jobs, but that vast majority, while perhaps near 100%, is not in fact 100%, and that some small number already have real jobs.

I'm not following how Sukiari was right: he/she was accusing me of asking a loaded question, when in fact I was opposing a loaded statement. I was saying "the only choices are not just 'I no longer beat my wife' (I have a real job, and don't do door to door) and 'I still beat my wife' (I do door to door, and don't have a real job). There are other choices, like 'I have never beat my wife' (I do door to door, and I have a real job) and 'I'm not married' (I neither do door to door, nor beat my wife)".
posted by Bugbread at 5:31 PM on February 24, 2007


It just struck me, it's the SPAM business model only with teenagers taking the place of the internet. Only a few goobers will buy, but that margin is enough to support the model, as long as you don't really pay the teenagers what they're worth.

One of the best things about living in the soulless city for many years is that when you have to dodge several scammers, hustlers and cons (before coffee) on your way to work, they shine like beacons when you see them in other settings. I have seen friends raised in the suburbs get sucked into the con, and you could see it in their eyes when the lizard brain takes over and they say "thousand dollar speakers, you say, too many to fit in the truck, well, I'd have be a jerk not to help you out with that..."

So, yaa! big city. (Although most farmers I know can spot a con a mile away too, so maybe yaa! old age, or experience or whatever...)
posted by milovoo at 11:14 AM on February 25, 2007


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