What Libraries Should Expect From Their Subscription Agent

Expectations.  They are a crazy thing.  Unless clearly communicated, expectations are often one sided.  In today’s world of  a “I have to have it NOW” mentality, we all know that sometimes expectations are clearly close to impossible to meet.  I have even witnessed this in a library when a patron went to the circulation desk and had to wait for 3 people to check-out before they did.  The impatience was almost humorous because of the way they over exaggerated their frustration.   A good mutual understanding is always helpful in any type of relationship.

For the past 25 years I have served libraries and have helped them with their magazine needs.  To say the least, things have changed in those 25 years.  Way back then, if someone wanted a quote for their magazine subscriptions they would place their magazine list in the mail to us (the company I worked for at that time), we would prepare the magazine quote and then return the quote to the library by mail.  If there was a question about a title or a question about their quote it was a major ordeal because most of our customers did not have a phone in their office.  The quote process was about a 15-20 day turn around time.  Things drastically sped up once libraries started getting FAX machines in their libraries!  My how things have changed!

Fast forward to 2013 when there is so much more technology involved and the entire world of magazines have shifted.  What should a public library or school library expect from their subscription agent?  What is reasonable and what is unreasonable?  I’ve outlined some areas below that I feel a library should expect from their subscription vendor in order to ensure the library is receiving the most value from their agent.

On Your Side

As I wrote this the jingle from Nationwide came to mind – “Nationwide is on your side…”  The entire purpose of Nationwide’s marketing campaign built around this jingle was to assure you that Nationwide is working for the customer.  Magazine subscription agents make their money from two sources.  They sell magazines to libraries and the commissions come from publishers.  So,  in a way, you have vendors who are working for both the publishers and the library.  At the end of the day, agents are in business for the library and our services are geared toward the library world (even though we bring value to the publishers).   I believe libraries have the right to expect the vendor to “be on their side” and to “fight for them.”  Luckily, the publisher typically wants the end-user to be happy, but there are times when we as vendors do have to stand firm for the desires of the library. You have the right to expect an agent to “work for you.”

Accurate and Up-To-Date Data

Details, Details, Details.  There are SO MANY details when it comes to a particular title.  There are various rate types, circulation types, changing frequencies, combined issues, special issues, ceased publications, suspended publications, titles behind schedule…ok, you get the idea – there is a lot of information to keep up with about each and every title.  Then multiply that by, say 20,000 of the most frequently ordered titles out of  270,000+ titles that are available, and WOW, that’s a lot of information.   But you still have the right to expect your subscription vendor to be accurate and up-to-date with the data we provide.  Will mistakes happen? Of course.  We often find out about titles that have ceased when a customer calls us to ask why they aren’t receiving a certain title.  When publishers go out of business or file for bankruptcy,  informing their customers of what is going on is typically not a high priority for the publisher.  I was recently guilty of entering a price of a title for $3,995 into our database when it should have been $39.95.  It didn’t take long for that to be questioned by one of our prospects….as I was actually writing this article.  Our job is to have the most accurate and up-to-date possible and I believe that’s a reasonable expectation.


I started this post by writing about the 15-20 day turn around for a quote 25 years ago.  Those were also the “good old days” when a receptionist answered the phone and you were able to always get a person when you called.  Telephone calls have given way to emails.  But whether you are calling, emailing, or claiming online, a response is a fair expectation.  Matter of fact, I believe a speedy and fast response is a fair expectation.  Technology allows us to provide so much more information and place it in your fingertips, but there are still times when questions simply need to be communicated person-to-person by the medium of choice.  I choose to do business with those whom I receive a quick and speedy response from.  We get so many compliments because of the way we respond, and I’m grateful for the compliments and being able to impress customers, but I always feel it’s a sad commentary on the service industry when a quick response is not the norm.  It’s one of my soapboxes, so I’ll control myself and will not babble on about it.


If you have magazines in your library there will be problems and questions that need to be answered.  It is fair to expect your agent to get results for you when you claim on problems with your magazines.   Subscription agents are the “go between” between the library and the publisher.  So as we contact the publishers and they tell us what they are doing to resolve the problems the subscription agent needs to communicate that back to the library.  As an agent, we have to trust that publisher is doing what they say they will do and, for the most part, they do exactly what they say they are going to do.  The problem is, most times it takes an issue or two in order for the resolve to be noticed on the label. But with that being the case, the subscription agent needs to communicate what is happening with a particular claim (more on effective communication below).  Your subscription agent is there to work for you, you have the right to expect results.

Friendliness & Appreciation

Some call it friendliness, I call it common courtesy and appreciation.  The way that I see it, our library customers are spending 100% of their subscription budget with us.  I constantly hear about budgets being cut and how difficult it is to get funding for this or for that.  Whether a library is spending $500 with us or $50,000 with us, it is 100% of their magazine budget that they had to fight for.  That deserves a friendly face, a friendly tone, a helpful attitude and a huge dose of appreciation.  You are the customer and deserve to work with people who are friendly, helpful and appreciate your business.

Effective Communication

Effective communication is going to show up in a variety of ways and a library has the right to expect excellent communication from its vendor.  Providing information about your collection, your order, invoice and your renewal is the bare minimum.  Having an array of helpful reports and details surrounding your account makes your job easier.  When claims are made to customer service effective communication from your representative is paramount.  You have to be informed of actions that are taking place and publisher responses.  During the renewal cycle and invoice cycle information is needed to ensure consistent service.  A library should never feel like they are in the dark when it comes to their subscriptions.

Fair Pricing

Your library should expect fair pricing when it comes to your subscriptions.  Publishers set the list price / rate that a library must pay for a subscription.  Agents are given commissions from the publishers, so we get to keep the difference from what we remit to the publisher and what we charge the library.  Obviously an agent has to make a profit in order to stay in business and the profit margin is a really small margin compared to other businesses. But it is still fair to expect a good service at a fair price.

Online Account Management

It’s 2013.  All of your account information should be online and at your fingertips.  Do you want to see your renewals? Go online.  Do you want to see an old invoice? Go online.  Do you want to renew? Go online?  Do you want to pay? Go online. Do you want a quote or to see the status of an order, go online.  It’s your data, it should be at your fingertips.

A Person To Talk To

Is this contradictory to Online Account Management?  Not at all!  Some issues (no pun intended) just need special attention or a quick explanation.  And when that happens, you need a person on the other end of the phone (or email) that is familiar with your account who can help you.  And as mentioned above, they need to be friendly, effective, responsive and appreciative.  That is always something you should expect from a subscription agent.

What are some expectations that you feel are not being met from the vendors you use?  The more we understand of your expectations, the better equipped we are to meet them and communicate accordingly.

2013-04-30T21:17:20+00:00 April 30th, 2013|

About the Author:

Bonnie is a guy who is crazy about magazines. He sold his first subscription to Field & Stream at age 12 and has been practically selling magazines ever since. Working in the magazine industry since college, Bonnie has worked in school library sales, public library sales, publisher relations, customer service – all surrounding the magazine world. Bonnie is one of the partners of Rivistas and handles the PR & Marketing side of things.

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