Reader service card

1 minutes estimated reading time

I was looking at old tech magazines online and came across the reader service card. It was a proverbial blast from the past. Occasionally I come across them, usually in my books where a card was used as an impromptu bookmark. In the same way that my Dad still uses old AOL discs as a coffee coaster on his work bench.

reader service card
Reader service card from Byte magazine circa 1988

How did it work?

The principle behind the reader service card was really simple. Email and messaging was only used in academic circles or within a company, with no external connection. For external communications there were:

  • Letters
  • Telephone
  • Fax machines
  • Telex machines

All of these cost money and took time. Back then your company might have had a strictly enforced telephone usage policy. So ticking a box for each advert that you’re interested in seems easy. An ad opting into the scheme would have text at the bottom would go something like ‘circle 93 on inquiry card.’ That explains why reader service cards were often nicknamed bingo cards.

The cards would be collated by the publisher who would send a list of addresses and relevant information to the advertiser. The advertiser would then send you a brochure and keep you on their mailing list.

My Dad had files full of product sheets from card requests and brochures that he would reference on a regular basis alongside parts catalogues. He knew them folders inside out.

This was the web, before the web. Hewlett Packard were moving to printing brochures on demand in the mid-1990s in parallel to them building out their first website pages with relevant product information.

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