Adventures In Stupidity: Magazine Subscriptions

It’s been a while since I’ve written an AIS article, but it’s not for the lack of subject material. Quite the contrary.

Today however, one worthy contender for what I now consider one of the most vile business practices I’ve come across recently may in fact be worthy of holding its own category, and award, for complete and utter malfeasance against anything deemed as ethical business practices, or customer care.

As the title suggests this is the world currently known as: hard copy, home delivered, magazine subscriptions. It would be better to name it “Hard Delivering of a Deceitful, Disgusting, Den of Thieves.” It’s no wonder the business is going to hell-in-a-hand-basket. The only thing good that may come of it when they reach the bottom? They’ll feel more at home with the new surroundings when they get there. But I digress.

Personally we’ve (this includes my wife) tried all the new “digital” subscription services. We’ve ordered some from the sole publisher, and also tried the “all you can read” type services giving access to most of the top titles. They’ve been fine, but reading a mag on a tablet or computer just isn’t the same, especially if you grew up on the dead-tree version.

When it comes to mags I now only subscribe to one or two, yet they are very specialized so my contact via their subscription service (to renew or cancel) has been easy as it should. My wife on the other-hand reads many of the titles for women’s fashion, gossip, entertainment, et cetera. If I typed the titles you would know them instantly, but for sake of brevity, I’ll skip it.

The reason why is not to be coy, as they say, but it’s because it’s basically the entire genre of today’s most popular titles you’ll find on news stands everywhere. So throwing “the big net” over the entirety of them is appropriate (and should be a clue to them) as for why people are no longer subscribing in droves. Their practices are now beyond pathetic and border on – extortion.

The entire process to cancel is not only horrendous, but borders on the likes as was famously sung by The Eagles: “You can check out any time you like – but you can never leave!”

Simply not renewing is not enough to either stop the magazine from coming, or the bills they’ll now imply you now owe for all those unwanted, unasked for deliveries.

We have not renewed many titles (and list is growing) in years, yet we still receive the mag regularly with what is made to look like a “past due” notice with an “offer” to re-subscribe at a now “Exclusive!” discounted rate. Some of these magazines have even followed us from one residence to another when we’ve moved, across the country, and intentionally not given them our new address. Yet, they arrive.

Then there are the others that send bills with “Open Immediately – Official Business – Past Due!” in bold red or blue ink wrapped in some formal looking envelope invoking IRS styled wording and attributes. These are the ones that send one (well, me) into orbit when flipping through the envelopes at the box. And these are the tame ones.

The last types are the ones that have the above attributes, but add that final touch for one to read if you open them implying some veiled threat of “We hope we don’t find it necessary to turn this over to a collection agency.” These are the types which are beyond infuriating.

Anyone who’s worked hard as to try to keep a clean record for paying ones bills knows all too well in today’s world of the internet – even a bogus claim to a collection agency has the immediate effect as being a legitimate one, for all your interconnected accounts, credit scores, and more are going to be immediately adjusted as if. Then comes the laborious nightmare of time and resources clearing it up and off.

Using this as a tactic for acquiring, or holding on to existing subscribers is so far beyond ethical it borders on criminal. Only the clever wording keeps it from the legal description. But as far as business ethics? It is criminal in my book. Period.

This latest tactic had its intended effect on me by one publisher the other day, because I did just what they wanted and contacted them. Getting anyone to “chat” or anything else was an impossible task, and probably a good thing, for the only thing I wanted at that point was to know where, and to whom precisely, my lawyer should send the lawsuit filings should they dare follow through on their insinuation.

After toiling away on their website looking for any and all ways as to ensure I would have (or at least try) no further contact with them I noticed something buried within the account information and tucked away so purposefully it showed just how distrustful, deceitful, disgusting, and pathetic the world of magazine subscriptions has become.

I found that if one  – did not “uncheck” a certain box – you automatically were put into their “customer advantage plan” where renewal became perpetual. That’s unlawful. One could (and is needed to) “check” and enter a program as to then be a billable transaction. But you can’t hold someone accountable, or responsible for not – opting out – as a requirement for automatically – opting into – something else, especially when it can be shown the intention was to hide it all to begin with.

This is reminiscent of the old scam where someone, or some company, would send un-ordered or non-requested items to a person’s home, then send a bill 3 months later because the person either kept it, used it, didn’t return it (at their personal expense mind you) or something else. They (the verminous senders) would then, in turn, either harass the persons for payment, or, sell the supposed “debt” to a collection agency.

The reason why this practice stopped was because the courts ruled if you send a product, and the recipient didn’t order or request it, but kept it, for what ever the reason, even if they threw it in the trash? Tough luck. Magazine subscriptions now seem to be using this pathetic tactic insinuating they have the “right” to demand you now pay. Again – it’s beyond ethical and borders the legal definition of criminal.

After finally figuring out (or at least assuming I did) I unchecked the box, then, once again, hit the “Cancel My Subscription” I then received a note to effect of “Please disregard all previous bills as we process your request.”

As I waited for some type of “bill” to arrive over the following weeks one finally one came, but not in form of bill. This time it was another copy of the latest installment of this rag mag with the following in big bold letters, “This is your final copy! Renew today or your service will end!” Hurry! Don’t Delay!”

So I opened up the sealed packaging and retrieved what I thought might contain a billing for the previous editions we received, but it was a simple “renew” form – which I then jettisoned it, and the magazine, into the trash as quickly as I opened it. What a complete an utter adventure into stupidity I hope to never travel again.

Maybe this explains the pricing discrepancy between news stand prices and home delivery. It’s extortion at the front end instead of the back. i.e., Buy it off the stand and the price of one issue is near the same price for a years worth of 12 delivered to my home. Yet, that “bargain” ain’t worth the aggravation I’ll receive for who knows how many years to come.

Talk about stupidity; all wrapped in glossy and smiling faces.

© 2017 Mark St.Cyr