Monday, August 17, 2009

Reader's Digest Is Filing Bankrutcy? I'm Happy

My title might be a little bit attention grabbing. I came across an article stating that Reader's Digest is filing bankruptcy. Please keep in mind that bankruptcy does not mean "going out of business". It simply gives the company some court protection to rearrange finances and try to come out from under financial problems. Some bankrupt companies actually do survive. Remember when K-mart filed bankruptcy almost 8 or 9  years ago? They came out of it stronger and bought Sears. All they had to do was get rid of the idiot criminals who were running the company into the ground.

So why does Reader's Digest filing bankruptcy sort of make me happy? It's a fine magazine, but when I did business with the company, I came away from it with a horrible taste in my mouth and a vow to never again let my money fall into their hands.

I was a sailor once. I think it was about the time when I was 23 (around 1997). My poor ability to handle money left me with more month left at the end of my paycheck. I paid all my bills and blew plenty of money, but I never got ahead. I was feeling the pinch one particular month. I used to buy Reader's Digest, and I enjoyed reading it. I normally had a copy on the ship to read. Sometimes people would send them to me, and some of my shipmates read it so I never lacked a copy.

I got an envelope in the mail for the "Reader's Digest Sweepstakes". Thinking that I was doing business with a company that had the heart of the writing in their magazine, and being a little desperate for money, I sent in the forms. If you've never filled out a Reader's Digest sweepstakes before, at least in the mid-90's, you had to take one sticker and put it on one square, then do something else. Oh, by the way, while you're at it, why not subscribe to Reader's Digest? OK, I did. I always liked their magazine.

Suddenly, I was getting tons of sweepstakes in the mail, and my phone was ringing off the hook all day and all night with these sweepstakes and lotteries that I supposedly won. Some of them needed $400 from my Visa card to process my winnings. Even I wasn't that stupid when I was 23. A got a couple of sweepstakes in the mail saying I won money and I had to send a check for $5 or $7 to process my winnings. I fell for that twice.

Throughout all of this, I was also getting tons of Reader's Digest sweepstakes. I also in the early days of this sweepstakes madness subscribed to Reader's Digest books.

Now, most of the sweepstakes were not from Reader's Digest, but I strongly suspect because of the timing that Reader's Digest sold my information to anybody who was willing to pay for it.

During this time period, my ship was under a heavy operational schedule. We were underway a lot. At one point, we were underway for 5 weeks. I thought I was paying my Reader's Digest subscriptions, but I kept getting nasty bills from them claiming that I hadn't. I went looking for contact information, but I couldn't find a single phone number to call to dispute their bills. All I had was an address in New York. This went on for several months. I'd think I paid, then get a nasty letter that I hadn't. I finally wrote a check for the final amount of one nasty letter, and sent it back to Reader's Digest with a letter of my own demanding that my subscriptions to all Reader's Digest products be canceled immediately and vowing that I would never do business with the company again.

We each upheld our end of my vow. My subscriptions were canceled (the sweepstakes continued to rain in for months) and I have not read a single Reader's Digest or Reader's Digest book in the last 12 years.

What did I learn from this?

  • Sweepstakes are bad. You already know my opinion of the lottery. I don't think any higher of sweepstakes, but at least it's usually a corrupt company rather than a corrupt government involved in sweepstakes. Yeah, minor difference.

  • Even a company that puts out a good product is not necessarily good by association.

  • Don't do business with a company that you can't call or email a live person to dispute a charge.

  • I also during this period learned not to enter into drawings for cars at the mall. That's a good way to get on marketing lists. You're not likely to win that Mustang.

In short, stop living your life in the hopes of winning money or cars. Set some goals for yourself and achieve the money or the cars. Make some short-term sacrifices in exchange for long-term success. You can do it! (And so can I!)
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