The Library Basement
Reading under ground

A review of Harper's classified ads

Harper's Magazine is the second-oldest continuously published magazine in the United States. Its combination of political commentary, general reporting, poetry, short fiction, art, and book reviews is enjoyed by just north of 200,000 subscribers. Based on the advertizing in its pages I surmise that the readership is generally older adults, wealthy, well-educated and intellectual, and mostly in the northeast. And it is this demographic which makes the contents of its classified ads so mystifying and amusing.

The Predictable

There are a few ads which meet my expectations about what sort should be in Harper's. Take for example an ad for the international tea importing business. This strikes me as right up the readership's alley, and it has been present in the classifieds as long as I have subscribed. Strangely the same ad actually appears twice in the current issue, in the outer columns of facing pages, such that when the page is closed, the ads would almosttouch.

Then you have the ad for "holistic organic" skin care products - exactly what older folks with disposable income are supposed to be buying. And the ad for the "documentaries on demand" service, which confusingly places a red heart glyph () in the printed URL.

The final ad in this category is another long-standing one - "European Beret \$14." Just what every American intellectual needs! My favorite part of this one is the rather goofy accompanying picture of middle age man articulating a point whilst wearing a beret. Now is the picture of a genuine European, or meant to convey what an American who purchases such a hat can achieve? As it happens the vendor for these berets is within walking distance of my work, so I may have to stop by for a fitting.

Aspiring Writers

There are a couple of ads for writers. As it happens, this is a rather new trend in Harper's classifieds.

One introduces the reader to book one of a trilogy, and confusingly (there's that word again) asks the reader to "buy it and book 3." I guess book two is dispensable.

And a very audience-aware ad seeks a "literary patron from the 1%." I assure you that no classified ad could more obtusely attempt to capture the zeitgeist of Harper's Magazine than this one. I wish the author well.

"Romance"

Would you like some "unorthodox" reading material? Or perhaps something "tasteful"? These ads are a mainstay. And for whatever reason, their publishers all seem to be based in New Jersey.

Moving to the higher brow, there is an ad for Quaker dating website, but it appears that the core value shared is caring about "social issues" rather than religion. And then there is the website which allows you to "date accomplished people" who have attended certain prestigious universities. Who said anything about this being a classless society?

Pseudoscience

This next ad actually blurs the lines between pseudoscience and "romance." Is your love life struggling? Try pheromones. Just check this testimonial:

My wife completely changed her reaction to me. Where before she was straining to be affectionate now she is flirty . . . I can hardly believe she is the same woman.

There's nothing like subconscious biological coercion to sweeten a relationship! I am not sure what editorial criteria there are for classified ads in Harper's, but in my opinion this one should be excluded on the grounds that it is either bunk, or (if it really works) disturbing.

There's also a paranoid sounding ad about "water scams" and some crazy tripe about forecasting future events. Really, is Harper's that hard up for a few dollars?

Conclusion

Honestly the Harper's readership does not seem like it would be interested in European hats pseudoscience or dating websites. But as I mentioned, some of these ads are long-standing, so I can only imagine that they work. And perhaps this is an indictment of the Harper's Magazine readership. No matter how sophisticated we perceive ourselves to be, we are still in the market for silliness.

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