Reader service cards in computer magazines

In the 1980s and 1990s I avidly read BYTE magazine, which was valuable to me not just for the editorial content but also for the ads.

In particular, the reader service cards in BYTE and other magazines were a great way of receiving additional interesting material from advertisers and vendors such as brochures, white papers, product catalogs, floppy disks with program demos or other software, booklets, manuals, and more. Back then this kind of technical material was hard to find via other channels, especially in Italy where I live.

Did you use reader service cards? Do you have any great memories as a reader, advertiser, or publisher? Were the cards effective for advertisers and vendors?

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Those reply services were great for publishers. As the responses all went via the publisher (or a service provider that would provide reports) the publisher knew which ads were getting responses. It could then use that info to strong-arm those advertisers into more (and preferably bigger) ads. Even better, the publisher could exploit the data to approach the advertiser’s rivals.

The great thing about this is that it was truly opt-in and thus efficiently selected audiences, which made it possible to provide things of actual value, which served both sides well. Even the publishers flourished, it even provided perfect metrics (if that’s what you are after).
(I struggle to not to mention the targeted advertising mess, we have today.)

So it was the publisher and not the advertisers who sent the requested material to readers, right?

I’d say, this was also the crux in the late 2000’s when publishers gave away their broker position, only to meet their economic demise. Today, gate keeping is done by others.
Conversely, and to return to the actual topic, the publishers then also enjoyed a notable trust by their readers and would have been ill advised to violate this, which was probably an important ingredient in this.

No, the request would simply be passed on to the advertiser for fulfilment. The publisher (or its agent) just acted as a centralised handling point. After all, there was only one mailing address on those cards.

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