Florida investigating major publisher over sales tactics

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The Florida Attorney General's office is investigating the sales tactics of Rodale Inc., publisher of Men's Health and Prevention magazines, Walletpop.com has learned.

To keep private some of what has been obtained by investigators under subpoena, Rodale went to court to block its release.
State lawyers and investigators are looking into "several negative option marketing methods employed by Rodale, including automatic shipments and automatic subscription renewals, and whether the marketing materials for these methods adequately disclose terms and conditions," the Attorney General's office told Walletpop. "We are also investigating whether Rodale sends consumers merchandise that has not been ordered."

Negative option marketing means products, such as books and magazines, are sent to consumers who don't specifically decline them. It is considered a deceptive practice since consumers end up with bills for items they didn't order. The state's investigation has been ongoing for more than a year.

Rodale's marketing has come under fire in the past.

The Better Business Bureau reports receiving 219 complaints in the last year, mostly over selling practices, giving the company a D+ rating.

Rodale maintains its marketing practices are above board.

"We are cooperating with the Florida Attorney General's office on their request for information and have provided relevant materials," said Paul McGinley, Rodale's senior vice presidentand general counsel. "Our practices are compliant with the law. We have had marketing materials reviewed by outside counsel consistently for several years."

McGinley said the company is challenging the Attorney General's office decision to release materials gathered under the subpoenas including customer lists, customer complaints and training manuals. Florida has liberal open records laws that generally permit the release of most documents gathered by the government, including those obtained under subpoena in an economic crimes investigation.

"We have filed a petition with the court to prevent disclosure of the information we submitted to the Attorney General to a third party as we believe the bulk of this information is proprietary and confidential," he said. "Any information that includes customer names is highly sensitive."

You can read Rodale's legal challenge and see the state's subpoenas here.

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