Evergreen Subscriptions are Perennial Pains

Magazines make money in two ways: consumer sales and advertising. Since advertising revenue has been steadily declining over the last two decades, magazines are likely to push sales numbers higher by pushing evergreen subscriptions.

An evergreen subscription is one where you provide a credit card number when you subscribe. It’s framed as a convenience since you don’t have to mail a check[1], and you can continue to receive your magazines without interruption. This way there won’t be any gaps in that rack you keep by the toilet.

As convenient as this is for you, the true beneficiaries of an evergreen subscription are the magazines themselves. This provides them with a steady stream of income since most people forget to cancel their subscriptions. And they have your credit card number.

I fell for this ploy when I subscribed to the cooking magazine, Saveur, last year. It was a one-year digital subscription for $5.00. The print issues are lovely. They have great looking layouts, beautiful photographs, and some great recipes. However, the digital version is shovelware. It’s nothing more than a digital reproduction of the print magazine. And everything—the text and images—are all graphic files that eat up a ton of storage space on my iPad. The experience does not translate.

The digital version of Saveur is difficult to read.

The digital version of Saveur is difficult to read.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the promotional rate was just a way to convert me to an evergreen subscriber:

Continuous Service Program: I understand that unless I tell you otherwise I will receive uninterrupted service and delivery of these digital magazines, and my subscriptions will be automatically renewed at the end of each subscription term, at the rates then in effect. I authorize that you send my information to the applicable publisher to fulfill my subscription and charge the credit/debit card provided. I won’t be bothered with any renewal notices; instead I will receive clearly marked reminder notices with the then current rates at least 45 days before my credit/debit card is charged or I receive an e-bill. I may opt out of the automatic renewal at any time and receive a refund on all remaining issues by contacting the applicable publishers’ customer service at supportticket@bonnierstore.com.

When I signed up, I fully understood the terms. I would be receiving a cheap promotional rate to start me as a reader, and since I had provided a credit card number for the subscription, they would charge me full price after the promotional period had lapsed. At the time, my plan was to stop the subscription before it renewed. However, since they were going to notify me at least 45 days in advance of the renewal, I didn’t bother to create an OmniFocus task reminding me to cancel this subscription.

But there was no such reminder.

This week, I saw a charge for emagazines.com on my statement. After some investigating, I determined that this was indeed a renewal for Saveur. In all fariness, the renewal rate was not predatory: $19.99 for nine issues over the next year, which is reasonable. However, I didn’t want to pay for the digital issues because, as I mentioned earlier, the iPad version of this magazine sucks.

After writing customer service, I received this reply:

The $19.99 charge was associated with an automatic renewal of a subscription to Saveur magazine, ordered 3/26/2013. Due to a processing error, many custoemrs[sic] did not receive the renewal reminder email- due 45 days in advance. We have canceled this automatic renewal, and issued a $19.99 refund to the card used in the original purchase.

Even if I don’t know what a “processing error” is, we did resolve this like adults. They’re refunding me money, and I’ll be made whole. But evergreening (if that’s even a real word) works because most people are lazy. What if I didn’t bother to spend fifteen minutes poring over my bank statement, investigating the charge, and kindly requesting a refund (and then spend about 700 words blogging about it)?

I’d still be out $20 and still be getting issues pushed to my iPad. And it’s not like I can put those “issues” in the bathroom magazine rack.

  1. A check is a transfer of funds from your bank account to another party. Crazy, huh?  ↩

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