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Consumer Reports

Playing hard to get can often get you a better deal on magazines | (KRT) >Almost as soon as you subscribe to a magazine, the reorder forms start to appear.

I got two offers for W magazine in one day — one for $15, another for $29.90. The message is, those "urgent" calls to reorder are not to be taken seriously. There's always another offer, and it just might be a better deal.

Twenty-five percent of magazines drop their price when subscribers don't respond to initial offers, says industry expert Dan Capell, editor of Capells Circulation Report. While the rest aren't systematic about bettering the deal, magazines are constantly testing prices. They do it directly and through independent subscription services — ensuring that you have an offer in the mailbox, by phone or at your door nearly every day.

To get the lowest price, Capell and the Better Business Bureau offer these tips:

• Publishers Clearing House might be best known for its sweepstakes, but it is also one place you can be sure to find the lowest price available. They won't advertise anything else.

• If you're a student, teacher or medical professional, you're eligible for some of the best rates in the industry. If they don't find you, be sure to call the magazine, tell them your position and ask about special or "professional" rates.

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• Negotiate with the publisher. If the latest mailing lists the price at $15, but you recently saw an offer for $12, tell them. Often, the publisher will honor it.

• Don't get excited about what you stand to "save" by subscribing. Publishers usually compare subscription prices to newsstand prices, which is misleading since they are two totally different categories. Newsstand sales are impulse driven, and prices have risen 10 to 15 percent in the past year. Meanwhile, subscription rates have stayed about the same. Comparing the two can make it seem like subscription deals are getting better when they're not.

• Be wary of door-to-door subscription sales. Ask the salesperson for his name, the company's name, address and phone number (get a physical address, not a post office box). Don't give out your credit card number until you've made sure the company is legitimate (you can check with the Better Business Bureau at Also be sure to compare the offer to one in the magazine.

• Be careful what you say to phone salespeople. Conversations are often taped to prove customers understand the terms of the subscription agreement. Your verbal agreement may become an immediate legal contract, and the only way to cancel is in writing — within three days of the receipt of the agreement.

• If a price seems too good to be true, it probably is. The Internet might offer some of the best magazine deals, but they aren't necessarily legitimate, and signing up could be throwing money away. "The Internet has led to a lot of unauthorized agents selling magazines at prices never authorized by publishers," Capell says.

• Check out a magazine's official Web site for subscription offers — they are occasionally better than what you receive in the mail.

• Don't fall for "free sample issue." Responding to those offers tends to automatically sign you up for a year's subscription — or, even worse, an ongoing subscription.

• Go for the gift. Not every magazine offers a gift for subscribing, but the ones that do are getting better due to a recent change of law that allows more valuable gifts than in the past. If you're thinking about subscribing, call to find out if any gift promotions are coming up.

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© 2003, Saint Paul Pioneer Press Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services