Pros: lots of good information, mostly accurate, no one else's ads
Cons: enough junk mail to heat your house in winter; pricey
I recently started taking Bottom Line Personal (BLP) again after a several-year hiatus, mainly because I saw that it had gotten thicker. I realized that when I did so I was mainly buying their primary advertising vehicle for more profitable goods and services, and I decided it was worth it in order to get the quality of information--fully consensual economic prostitution. Plus, I needed another tax writeoff for the business.
The sample issue of this semimonthly publication was dated April 1, 2001. (All of you who are reading a lot into that, go play in traffic.:)
Format: a very readable, newspaperly presentation style. It's only sixteen pages, and not much of it consists of ads. All such ads are those of the mag's parent company, which is pitching a 'business miracle' called I-Power (owner Martin Edelston's self-improvement program, which can be yours for only $99), as well as Martin's free e-letter found at www.bottomlinepersonal.com. It may well be that you can get a lot of good information about/from the magazine there while rejecting cookies and avoiding paying Marty $30 per year.
(Sorry, Marty. The bottom line is that it's nothing personal, just as you don't mean anything personal when you shell me with junk mail. It's just a business decision.)
Methodology: BLP retains or consults with a number of people they consider experts in various fields. How they choose them, I'm not sure, but I know this much: anyone billing John Gray, 'Ph.D' (Men Are From Sportsbars, Women Are From 'Lifetime') as one of their experts on relationships needs to broaden his or her horizons a little. Deepak Chopra (ulp...excuse me a moment) is also on their list.
I can't help but wonder if some of their Usual Suspects are chosen more for marquee value than actual knowledge... however, they publish the credentials (to varying degrees of depth) of the people whose advice they incorporate, so you could presumably check up on them to see if they were diploma-mill wonders, for example, or bona fide experts.
BLP's advice leans heavily to legal, tax, investment and medical tips, so what I'll do is skip around the magazine and give you an idea of the aggregate relating to each of these core topics. After that, I'll gaggle up whatever miscellaneous stuff doesn't fit these categories (mostly relating to the home, entertainment and travel). This works best because sometimes the information is fairly hodgepodged, and legal advice is generally part and parcel of a given category, so no need to give it its own section. Sections in 'Apostrophes' denote topics that didn't need to be divided into my arbitrary categories because they fell entirely within one or another.
Tax: the tax deadline, advice for last-minute filers. 'Deductions, Deductions'--some guerilla tax deduction tips relating to home modification for medical reasons, starving artists' self-promotion efforts, teachers' foreign travel, salaries to children, rent paid to self, and personal deduction for donation of shares of a business. How to protect your marriage at tax time when you and your spouse are each plotting spousicide over filing tax returns. How employees are taxed on employer-provided life insurance. The property tax trap relating to mortgage escrow accounts.
Investment: 'Inside Information'--comments on how mad cow scares could affect certain stocks (tickers shown); some economic forecasts concerning US companies with European operations. 'Invest small, earn big'--a lengthy (by BLP standards... about a page) essay on small-cap stock investing. How to determine value, how to pick 'em, current favourites (again, with tickers).
A couple of growth stock analyses. Why value investor Marc Faber is hot and heavy for gold stocks. (I guess if Marc Faber is doing it, it must be a good idea. Everyone knows Marc Faber. Don't you know Marc Faber? If not, please justify yourself.) Getting into conference calls between management and Wall Street investors. 'The Perils of Online Investing'--mistakes and how to avoid or correct them, four full columns.
(For those not directly familiar with the term, a 'ticker' is the 1-4 (occasionally longer) letter shorthand that positively identifies a given stock or mutual fund. Investment wonks will say 'buy 13000 shares of MSFT', and other investment wonks will know that 'MSFT' = 'Microsoft', for example, or they'll look the ticker up in a stock guide.)
Medical: spring safety tips about bicycles and outdoor sports; dealing with kids' spring energy bursts. A new test for breast cancer; details of medical savings accounts for the self-employed and for small business employees. How half of all fertility problems are traced to men, and how a hospital patient can have a family member with him or her 24x7. How to avoid the biohazards that pass for public restrooms.
How indoor pesticides can migrate to toys. '12 Weeks to Physical & Mental Health'--a full four columns of nutritional, psychological and exercise advice. Important minerals diets lack. How unclear thinking lurks behind most anger. (Oh, yeah? Who says?! Are you implying something, bub?) Dangers of penile enlargement surgery. Precautions before sending medicine to school. Risks of bee pollen capsules.
Misc: expected spring and summer weather patterns; vacationing tips; date of daylight savings time change this year. Debunking of myths about college admission. How homeowners have less equity in their houses these days (duh). Golden rule of air travel (book in advance). 'Simplify'--your finances, your schedule, your home. Journaling. Internet searching. Anti-virus advice.
Preserve clothes without carcinogenic mothballs. Gasoline moneysavers. Advice on pet CPR, and on detecting and accommodating pets' deafness and blindness. Some funny movies, divided up by age of appeal. 'What's Hot...What's Not at Flea Markets Now'--four columns of ideas for the eBay- and garage sale-minded. Great games for travel. Freebies you can call (or write) and order; cheapbies, in the same vein; slightly less cheapbies. (I suspect that many of these are paid advertising, but I can't prove it.)
'How to Save Time and Money on Home-Cooked Meals'--ones easily frozen or stored for later troughing. Surprising uses for paper and plastic bags. Economic slowdown self-defense. Safest air bags; diesel cars. How to minimize jetlag; downsides of off-season travel. Best deals on Stafford student loans. Home selling tips.
As you can see, this is a pretty eclectic piece of work. It's a quick read, and you'd pretty much have to live a Neolithic existence in a barter economy not to get some useful information out of every issue. Nothing is lengthy--everything is condensed. The complete sentence is sacrificed upon the altar of 'just give me the bottom line right now'. Gratify me or I will reach for the clicker. One thing that just hit me as I was writing: it reads a hell of a lot like a series of extremely dry but informative Epinions essays.
In this way, at least, BLP is very symbolic of the contemporary American middle class to which it proffers advice. It is about as opposite to Utne Reader, for example, as you can possibly imagine--yet both are offering advice for better living. Utne has time for coffee and a granola and ruminations on the meaning of our existence--while BLP is busy timing the signal lights on the arterial street so as to get there two minutes sooner, because Time is Money. And it's figured out how to talk on its cell phone while still driving safely.
Me, I think if you get one, you should get both, just to stay in balance--for the same reason I force myself to read George Will's and Ellen Goodman's columns, because I can't stand either one. We need disparate viewpoints presented differently.
Le junque-mail: I'm not sure how many outfits Marty's company sells your name to these days, if any (we will soon find out), but I remember from before that I got all sorts of pitches from him for this motivational product, that special publication, or the other life-simplifying business tool. You get the idea. There is a sort of aura of Frankie's-Coven, or whatever their name is (you know... mall store, they sell overpriced briefcases and day-timers, and they pant in ecstasy over the 'Seven Habits of Highly Effective People') about everything that issues forth from Martyville.
Value: at roughly $2 per issue, even granting the density of information and the relative lack of advertising, this is a moderately expensive mag considering that for $4 per month you can have both Time and Newsweek, for example, if you want to accept the 'Professional Courtesy Rate' that they send out to anyone they suspect of having a positive blood pressure reading, or of having had one recently.
Appeal: helps to be a homeowner, a parent, an investor, a do-it-yourselfer, a thrifty type, and a skeptic. The more of these things you are, the more you're going to benefit from it. A single person with no money who lives in an apartment, spends money pretty freely and tends to be very credulous, therefore, might find it only semi-relevant. (You may scoff, but except for 'credulous' (I wasn't even a credulous embryo), that was me at thirty.)
However--and I deeply respect Marty's marketing savvy here--there is enough useful information in every issue of BLP--even if you do some heavy filtering--to make it one of those publications you hate to not get. Therefore, Marty probably charges what he knows he can get because most of his subscribers probably don't much sweat $30-50 per year, and in the process, gets a prequalified list of people to market to.
Not everything you get from Marty costs you extra. I remember periodically getting special booklets called 'How to Do Everything Right', and so forth, now and again--and I never ordered any of his special offers at all, no matter how much junk mail he sent me. When I signed up for my subscription it included a booklet that was basically more BLP. It all has a sort of Consumer Reports-like feel about it.
He probably doesn't have to pay his advisors too much--he can offer them national exposure as a form of marketing. (Hell, I'd jump at the chance. I'd be booked up in anticipation of problems with computers people hadn't even purchased yet.) So let's assume he doesn't have to pay too much for his material; he gets a revenue stream from the products his company sells; his consumers are persuaded to pay for his advertising vehicle. Not too shabby. Marty's whole program may feel a little bit 'Re-engineering The Corporation'-slick to my eye, but it's very intelligent. I therefore will never underestimate him, nor will I ever assume I've got all his angles worked out.
But I'm going to keep getting his magazine. I won't Biblify it, but I'll read it--cover to cover.