Chris Anderson writes, in: The Long Tail: The Connection Between Global Warming, PR spam and Magazines.
Take those "blow-in" subscription cards that we put in our magazines. Our circulation department wants to put in as many as possible, because five cards have a slightly higher chance of one being sent back than four, and six is slightly higher yet. As long as those cards earn more in subscriptions than the cost of paper and print, they're considered a good thing from the circulation department's perspective.
Yet as we editors who talk to readers and get their email know, people HATE those cards. They fall out of magazines when you pick them up, forcing you to bend over to retrieve them and find a trash can in which to throw them away. This is a real negative cost that hurts our relationship with our readers, but because we can't measure it directly, it's an externality and thus mispriced at zero in the economics of the magazine industry.
No more. I've been spoiling for a showdown with the blow-in blackguards for some time now, and am going to fire up a Facebook Cause dedicated to eradicating blow-ins. In a nutshell: I'm going to be urging anyone who will listen to take those blow-in cards and deposit them not in the nearest trashcan, but in the nearest mailbox.
The economics of blow-in cards are pretty compelling to magazine publishers, as Chris points out above. But here's the thing -- the USPS charges the source of the litter (also known as business reply mail of the blow-in variety) by the piece returned. Here's a list of the fees, which, when compared to the infinitesimal cost of blow-in cards that must underlie the systematic littering we're talking about, could get to be fairly whopping.