Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Answer: What's the deal with Iowa and magazine renewals?

 What DO you notice? 

Renewal labels from several magazines.  Notice anything odd here? 

In my case, I notice things that vary from what I expected (e.g., the non-development of land south of the Carquinez strait or the difficulty of finding documentary films).  That's how "noticing" usually works.  The more patterns you know, the more you'll see--if you're paying the slightest attention.  

And, as I said last time, sometimes I notice patterns that are simple repetitions, as in the case of how often I saw the city names of Harland or Boone, Iowa on the magazine renewal slips.  

Now I have to admit that I'd never heard of Boone or Harlan, Iowa, so I got curious.  And that leads to this SRS Challenge.

1. Why are so many magazine subscription renewals sent to Harlan or Boone, IA?  Why there?  

The first commenter was Regular Reader AlmadenMike, who wrote that  "...I knew that the term used for managing magazine subscriptions is called “fulfillment” … so I searched for..."

    ["magazine fulfillment" boone harlan iowa]

That turned up a number of LinkedIn profiles for folks working at a company called CDS Global.

Its website doesn’t appear to give any corporate history, but their website does list locations in Boone & Harlan.

By looking at the Wikipedia page for CDS Global, AlmadenMike found that the company's origin was with the Look Magazine circulation department, which had put its subscriber info on magnetic tape in 1971. Alas, two months later Look magazine folded! But that didn't stop some intrepid souls from going out and starting a business with this skill set.  

As described in the Wikipedia article’s reference 4 (it was a page 1 article in the Oct. 26, 1997 edition of the Des Moines Register, see: and the jump page continuation), six Look employees had the idea to offer their computer system expertise to other publishers for fulfillment services, and thus CDS Global was born.

My query was a bit different: I started by searching for the zip code for Boone, IA (figuring that any web pages about this topic would discuss the ZIP code): 

     [ zip code boone ia magazine ] 

This led to a fascinating 2017 post by Claire about "Your New Yorker Magazine: Fresh off the Farm in Boone Iowa?" wherein she wonders why her New Yorker magazine subscription renewal was being sent to Boone, Iowa.  (Great minds think alike.)  In there she writes: 

The New Yorker—and many more magazines under publishing giant Conde Nast, contract delivery to your doorstep, using a company called CoMag.

[That's fine,] ... but it’s downright disturbing that Conde Nast's magazine bitter publishing rival, Hearst, uses THE EXACT SAME DISTRIBUTOR (sorry for yelling, but I’ve lost my patience).

It is kind of strange, no? But here's another magazine fulfillment service that's in Boone, IA.  (Update: Apparently New Yorker now (2021) now apparently uses a New York address for renewals.)  

In any case, my query ALSO led to the Quora post about CDS in Boone and Harlan, Iowa (which Melanie also found with a query of Harlan Iowa magazine subscriptions ]). 

From these sources we find that CDS headquarters is in Des Moines, but that it has plants (that is, fulfillment centers) in Harlan, Boone and Red Oak, IA.  (Except that the Red Oak facility closed in May, 2010, per the Des Moines Register of that date. I found the archives of the Des Moines Register by doing the obvious search... [Des Moines newspaper archive])  

And, of course, by using Google Maps, I can check out the CDS Global locations in both Boone and Harlan: 

CDS Global facility in Boone, IA

CDS in Harlan, IA

From the satellite view, I can see that they're very similar buildings: both have large loading docks (for mail trucks, I assume).  

But now I'm curious.  When did these fulfillment centers open?  

If I use Google Earth's time-slider function, I can see that the building in Boone was created sometime between 1998 and 2004, but not much more than that.   Likewise, in Harlan, I can see their building was built between 1997 and 2004.  

Of course, to find local history, it's often useful to search local newspapers (which I did, and found little--no articles about the plant openings).  How did I get to the local newspapers?  But finding the local library websites, then clicking on their local newspapers and searching there.  That's how I know that mentions of CDS in the Harlan News-Advertiser begin in October, 2007. Unfortunately, there's no local newspaper archive in Boone.  

But we've got a pretty good first approximation.  CDS Global runs magazine renewal subscription services for a large number of magazines.  They have several facilities, with the plants in Boone and Harlan seeming to account for most of the magazines that I know about.  You can find many more with a search such as: 

     [ magazine renewal "Boone, IA" OR "Harlan, IA" ] 

You might be amazed at how many magazines have outsourced their renewal services to CDS.  (Surprises to me:  National Geographic, Archaeology, Entrepreneur, Golf, TV Guide, Guideposts, Our Wisconsin, ... the list goes on.)  

BUT... while we've learned a lot, I don't have any details about how CDS decided to locate in Harlan or Boone.  Was it cheap land?  Was it easy access to freeways?  Was it that the postmaster in those town realized that they've got a lot of excess capacity making it simple for CDS to operate?  

We've learned a lot... but there's more to find out. 

So... I wrote to the librarians of each town's libraries.  With luck, we'll learn a bit more of the backstory.  I'm waiting for those email replies now!  (I'll let you know what I find out.)  

SearchResearch Lessons 

1. Some research takes time!  It might be frustrating for searches to not return an instant response, but even in the days of increasingly competent AI, some searches take multiple days as you figure out who and what to ask!  

2. Remember all of the resources available to you.  In this one search, I've used Maps, Earth, Books, digital newspaper archives, and StreetView.  Keep these all in mind as you search. 

3. Email might be your best friend.  I hope this works out!  Stay tuned.  Sometimes a simple human-to-human connection (especially for difficult to find content) is your best hope.  

4. Stay curious--notice when things don't fit into the pattern, and spend the time to search around.  That is, cultivate a healthy sense of curiosity.  And keep searching... especially when the things you see don't fit into an obvious pattern.


Search on! 


  1. good reminder about how elusive some bits can be — hope the librarians respond.
    trying to stay curious, but am finding search a bit tedious lately… not sure why… maybe I need to stay curiouser, like George…
    or become more interested in fashion, or algorithms.
    was curious about the mags… folded in 2015 - Lucky
    ¿why ask why SERP?
    "Algorithms are all around us. Common examples include: the recipe for baking a cake, the method we use to solve a long division problem, the process of doing laundry, and the functionality of a search engine are all examples of an algorithm."