They are everywhere. They fall onto the floor at home and office. They litter Metro cars, stations and buses. They intrude on my reading.

And they annoy me.

"They" are the subscription and advertising cards bound into saddle-stitched magazines, or merely inserted loose into any magazine.

I'd be surprised if carding magazine readers pays for itself. Such efforts are redundant (soliciting new subscribers in current subscribers' copies). They are illogical (the cards don't allow for renewals or extensions). They are inconsistent and confusing (one card in a copy of Time offers a subscription at 59 cents per issue; another card in the same copy offers a subscription at 46 cents; and a third card has three selections: "25 issues for $14.97; 33 issues for $10.76; or 50 issues for $29.95").

Which is the best buy? Or is there any difference?

You bet there is! Send in the red and black card in which you choose any number between 25 and 100 issues. Make it 52 issues, and a year's subscription will cost you $30.68. Then you find the second card with big letters: "Save 50% off the $1.25 cover price." Check the third box ("50 issues for $29.95"), and you'll have saved 73 cents, but received two fewer issues. (The fine print on another card informs you that "the basic subscription price" is only $31 anyway.)

Now before we rush into anything, let's re-examine that middle card, the red-black-and-green one. It's the one that, as I figured it out, came to 46 cents per copy. "Time" The Perfect Gift " It reads, and proceeds to offer 52 issues for only $24, or $6.68 less than the highest price card bound into the same issue of the magazine.

To try and make some sense out of the subscription "greeting card" situation, I saved the cards bound or loose in my magazine for the eight weeks of November and December. They made a stack four inches high.

There are 169 cards from 51 issues of 12 magazines, an average of 3.3 cards per issue.

There was a wide variance between types of magazines. My favorite, The New Yorker, inserts a single gift-subscription envelope in each issue and only at holiday season. While the envelope is loose, it can't fall out because the magazine is wrapped in brown paper.

Two specialized journals, Audubon and Enviroment, averaged only 2 cards per issue, and Washingtonian 2.5. Smithsonian and Sports Illustrated averaged 3, Science, 3.5, and Columbia Journalism Review, 4.

Now we come to the heavy, Time, which in eight issues inserted 52 cards, for an average of 6.5 cards per issue. It's competitor, Newsweek, ran only 32 cards in the same number of issues, for an average of 4 per issue.

The subscription cards, with their confusing offers, are annoying enough, but the other advertiser cards are downright infuriating. There were 26 of these in the 51 issues examined. They were for encyclopedias, savings-and-loan associations, even an electrical generator dealer. (I recognize that most of the publishers involved are conglomerates and I can excuse Time-Life Books or Records for soliciting its magazines' mailing lists; or an environmetal organization's new-member campaign directed at old members. I even can understand magazines inserting cards for other magazines; quid pro quo , I assume.)

But what I am complaining about are new-subscription offers (not renewals) in subscribers-already copies, and the proliferation of up to six or more cards per issue.

What can be done about the card glut? The moment a magazine enters my house, I flip through it and tear out and destroy all cards. I'd suggest that others do the same, or, better yet, return they (they're postage-paid, you know) to the publishers with strong notes of disapproval.

And my appeal to publishers: Please, only one subscription card per issue.

If it's cheaper for you, make the other side a dead flap. If you can't sell it to an advertiser, put your own duplicate subscription offer on that side, too. Make one of the cards expressly for present subscribers to renew their subscriptions at a new-subscriber's rate. If we all do this well in advance of expiration, you are saved all those solicitation costs. Most important to me, it treats me as an equal with the new subscriber you're so anxious to snag. m

Finally, for the sake of litter control indoors and out, please no loose cards ever!