Am I Stealing by Reading Magazines at Checkout?

In today’s post over at the Simple Dollar Trent asks the question when is frugality stealing? The debate stems from an earlier post where Trent explained how he read the recipe from a bookstore cookbook into his voice recorder so he wouldn’t have to purchase it. If you haven’t checked out this post and the 50+ comments that follow I urge you to take a peak.

I found myself asking a similar question a few days ago. I was in a long line at the checkout for Rite-Aid. In order to occupy my time, (while the cashier waited for a price check), I grabbed a magazine off the rack and began rifling through the pages. I started reading an interesting article about personal finance in the latest issue of Redbook. It was only a few pages long, but suddenly the line sped up and before I knew it I was at the front of the line.

I put the magazine aside and began unloading the items from the basket. As I was moving items onto the counter the cashier scanned the magazine into the register. When I told her I didn’t want the magazine she said, “you have to purchase it you were reading it.” It turns out the cashier was just kidding, but it did make me wonder whether or not I should purchase a magazine I leaf through while I’m waiting.

I went home and searched for the Redbook article I was reading on the Internet. I figured if I could find the information for free then I wouldn’t feel so guilty about reading the magazine without paying for it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the article on the Internet. So now I’m wondering should I consider this act stealing?

7 thoughts on “Am I Stealing by Reading Magazines at Checkout?”

  1. Stores purposefully place magazines in checkout lanes because they are impulse goods. They hope waiting customers will start reading, then purchase the magazine to read more later. Obviously they don’t expect everyone who opens a magazine to buy it. The magazine’s placement is a sales tactic: they figure some portion of people will become interested enough to buy it.

    A customer isn’t obligated to buy a magazine or book after browsing through it. Otherwise magazines would be sealed in plastic. Remember that by buying a magazine (or book) you get more than the information inside (which may be freely available elswhere) – you also get a convenient way to read and reference the information, especially while offline (e.g. on a bus).

    If you didn’t purchase that magazine, then you obviously didn’t think it would be worth your money. I think you made the right decision.

  2. I didn’t want to get into the fray over there (at The Simple Dollar), but here I’ll say that it may be more of an etiquette issue than an ethical one. Browsing a mag while you stand in line is socially acceptable. It’d take something more (like ruining the mag) to make it into an ethical issue. Just my $.02.

  3. I consider browsing the magazines a store’s way of placating customers trapped in a slow line from losing it when the person in front can’t get their act together and actually pay for their groceries.

    I always make sure to put the magazine back neatly. I consider it rude to jam it in and bend it up.

  4. I agree with the others… I don’t consider it stealing either. But like neumes said, I always make a point of putting it back very neatly.

    I much prefer when there is no one in front of me, but when it’s busy, I do browse through the rack……..

  5. I’m glad to see you all think browsing isn’t stealing. By the way I always put the magazine back neatly on the rack.

  6. Definitely OK what you did. Gosh, sometimes I go to Barnes and Noble and read 1/2 a magazine without purchasing it. I think reading an article while in line is totally OK, if not encouraged!

    Plus the fact that you tried to find the article online (presumably going to the publishers site, driving traffic and ad revenues)…I think its fine.


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