Back in March 2007, Nicholas Van Hoffman wrote in the left-leaning opinion and investigative magazine The Nation that "the banks cannot find enough young people, students, sick people and old people on small fixed incomes to give credit cards to. Once they've got them signed up for a card the tricks and traps begin." What a difference a recession makes: Today, the high-and-mighty Nation is issuing a Visa card of its own.%%DynaPub-Enhancement class="enhancement contentType-HTML Content fragmentId-1 payloadId-61603 alignment-right size-small"%% A recent e-mail to Nation subscribers, signed by associate publisher Peggy Randall, offers a "FREE Nation Magazine Platinum Visa Rewards Card." The magazine's partnership deal with Visa, offered by UMB Bank, offers readers a 0% introductory rate for six months, which then jumps to 11.15% (and potentially higher) based on the prime rate. The average interest rate on all variable rate credit cards is 11.77%, according to BankRate.com.
Perception Versus Reality
The appearance of a conflict may be more potent than any conflict itself for the 145-year-old magazine. Chris Roush, editor of the Talking Biz News blog, says The Nation should "bend over backwards to prove" that the Visa deal won't soften its hard-hitting coverage of the financial services industry.
Edgar Dworsky, founder of Consumer World, isn't offended by the notion of a Nation credit card. "The Nation is supported by its subscribers, many of whom donate money beyond the subscription price to keep the magazine afloat," he says. "It's another means for their subscribers to help the magazine."
But he's concerned by the fine print. "What's troubling in the offer is that the would-be cardholder doesn't know what reward he or she will be getting," Dworsky says. "One point or one mile for every dollar spent? 1% back on all purchases? Or what?" Nor, he adds, do users know the percentage of future purchases that go back to The Nation.
Randall's LinkedIn profile notes that a donor program of 30,000 members contributes more than 20% of the magazine's revenues -- its second-biggest revenue source, after subscriptions.
'A Certain Purity'
This isn't The Nation's first credit card, says the magazine's publicity director, Ben Wyskida. It ran a similar program from 1998 until last January and is now reviving the program after forging a deal opposed to the "procession of mega-banks that kept buying each other and weren't very responsive," Wyskida says.
"People have credit cards, we have credit cards and from a business perspective, it seems that if our readers are going to be using credit cards, an affinity program like this gives them one more way to support the work of the magazine," he says. "I realize we're The Nation, and that people expect a certain purity from us, but we don't live off the grid or in a barter economy."
Still, Wyskida adds, the magazine's business model remains based on investigative journalism. "If we were confronted with some massive story about financial services malfeasance that would also mean the end of our affinity program," he says, "that story is certainly worth more to us."
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