Deceptive Tactics in the Magazine Renewal Game

[responsive]renewal[/responsive]Mum seems to the word from big name magazine publishers on third-party subscription renewals, according to Rick Edmonds in Poynter.

The scam, which may not be technically illegal but is certainly deceptive, lures subscribers to pay for subscription renewals through a third party, often out of White City, Oregon.

The problem?

“Renewals or new subs are fulfilled, and unless a customer complains, it’s caveat emptor about being overcharged 15 percent or more,” writes Edmonds.

While Edmonds hasn’t seen much, if any, response from publishers, the Magazine Association of America (MPA) was a bit more forthcoming.

“Rita Cohen, an MPA senior vice president/legislative and regulatory policy, amplified in a phone conversation,” Edmonds writes. “The association is well aware of the problem and has sought to interest the FTC, U.S. Postal Service and several state attorneys generals in crafting a legal response — so far to no effect.  A renewed push in partnership with the Newspaper Association of America is under discussion.”

Interestingly, Edmonds makes some solid points that the industry – after decades of legitimate third-party sales, immediate renewal notices and the practice of selling subscriber lists – created a ripe platform for this kind of abuse. And the consumer pays the additional price, while publishers have little incentive to stop the practice.

While the solicitations are generally marked as not being an invoice, the print is small and it’s clearly not designed for clarity. And magazines have been reluctant to notify their subscribers of the practice, Edmonds notes.

“Despite Cohen’s assurances, my sense is that industry concern over the scams is muted at best. In a Google Search, I could only find only The Nation and The Atlantic offering warnings and refunds as the Times did. Cohen and Wagner sent me a couple more examples from Guideposts and the Harvard Business Review,” he explains.

“Larger organizations may not communicate directly to subscribers, Cohen conceded, so as not to alarm the majority who have never received the notices. Cohen also noted that not all magazines are equally affected,” Edmonds continues.

It comes down to being vigilant. Edmonds’ bottom line is clear:

“Magazine buyers should never respond to a White City solicitation, saving themselves money by dealing directly with the publishers.”