Why do all magazine change-of-address cards go to the same address?

Dear Cecil:

I am in the process of moving from Baltimore to Washington, and I've been sending out change-of-address cards to magazines. Three of these went to post office boxes in Boulder, Colorado, all at the same zip code. None of the magazines is published in Colorado. This can't be a coincidence, can it?

Cecil replies:

Nothing is a coincidence, Booboo, as my previous writings on this subject have already made clear. The arm of the international terror conspiracy you’ve unearthed here is the Neodata Services Group — and doesn’t that have an ominous ring to it? But fear not. Actually, it’s a company that processes subscriptions for 115 or so magazines ranging from Playboy to House & Garden out of an office at Boulder plus several satellite locations. The firm gets between 100,000 and one million pieces of mail per day from 44 million subscribers. It’s handled by a total of 1,500 employees, including 600 in Limerick, Ireland, all of whom, I am sure, are absolute sweethearts. (Hey, I subscribe to magazines too, you know.)

Neodata mails out 202 million pieces a year (subscription renewal notices and so forth) and spends $36 million on postage per year. The company guesses it generates about 1 or 2 percent of the annual volume of mail handled by the U.S Postal Service. It prints up mailing labels for each issue of the periodicals its clients produce and ships them out to the publishers to be affixed to the actual magazines. It also handles two million complaint calls per year — listen, I can go on like this for hours. For its services the company charges publishers about a dollar per subscriber per year.

The company was founded in 1949 to handle subscriptions for Esquire and eventually began taking on other clients. It was bought in 1963 by A.C. Nielsen, the television ratings company, which was in turn bought by Dun & Bradstreet — the tentacles of the Great Combine are everywhere. Neodata’s chief competitor (which actually is larger) is Communications Data Services of Des Moines, Iowa. CDS is owned by the Hearst Corporation and processes subs for Hearst mags like Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping as well as many independents. Needless to say, these companies keep up-to-date computer files on all you guys. Not to alarm you unnecessarily, but forewarned is forewarned.

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.

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