Yes, it’s FREE! Well, wait…

I just signed up for a free magazine subscription. Actually, the magazine comes out monthly, and you can buy the full 12-month subscription OR you can choose the “standard-level subscription,” which gives you four issues for FREE (if you qualify), one each quarter.  I’m signing up for this magazine because a client mentioned she thinks it has good info for me to follow regarding her business. She told me to sign up for the freebie since that would give me just enough of what I needed to know.


Here was my experience in The Land of (Not-So?) Free:

Why don’t they say “Click here for your FREE subscription – one issue, one per quarter”? Oh, because apparently they want to play. Here’s what they said: “Request a standard subscription.” That doesn’t sound very free, but maybe that’s me being a poor sport.

When you click on the “Request a standard subscription” button, you’re brought to a landing page that says:

Free Subscription to <Name Redacted> Magazine
It only takes 2 minutes to complete this one-page form!

And then, beneath that, there’s a big yellow WARNING triangle that says:

Did you receive a FREE COPY at your address?
Or are you an existing subscriber?
If so, do NOT fill out the form below!
Instead, LOGIN to confirm your pending subscription, renew or change address.

And then below this is the World’s Longest Form For Something Free (27 fields to fill out). It includes a field that asks me the first letter of my father’s first name, for verification purposes (as Dave Barry would say, “I’m not making this up.”)

After filling it out (I forget to time it to see if it took two minutes) and submitting it, I kinda felt panicky, like I just agreed to getting slapped with a $50 invoice. There was nothing saying “Congrats! You’ll get your first free issue in 6-8 weeks. And we’ll send you three more free issues after that. If at that point you want to subscribe to our 12-month plan, you can do so. And if not, no worries — you’ll never get an invoice from us unless you decide to upgrade.” Instead, everything felt vague and confusing. Even the follow-up email made me feel like I had an “account,” which I guess I do.

Here’s my beef: if you’re going to give something away for FREE, give it away FREE and CLEAR. Do not make me jump through hoops with a long-ass form. Do not make me believe, after filling out said form, that I’m going to be saddled with an invoice.

Since I’m filling out a request for a free magazine, I understand you’ll need my mailing address (that’s already giving you much more info than I provide on most forms). But for everyone else out there who is giving something away for free, get only the basics: a name and an email address and include an opt-in check box for future communications. That’s it. Yes, I understand what you’re giving away is a bait piece, but really, if I give you my email address and my explicit permission to continue marketing to me, that’s all the info you need. And if I DON’T give you permission to market to me again, get over it.

I’m a marketing copywriter, so I understand the “client side,” trust me. But I also believe that by advocating for the customer side first, both sides will ultimately win in the long run.

Recap: If you’re really giving something away free and clear, say so and stand by it. Make it easy for people to get the goods. Respect the fact that for many, this is all they will ever want from you. And then move on and focus on the ones who do want to hear from you again.

Next week, I’ll be answering a question from a reader about whether free stuff should require any sort of form at all. It’s a good question. Stay tuned for my answer.