Saturday, February 12, 2005

Automatic renewals: When your magazine sucks, trap the customer

In yesterday's mail, I received a rather strident note from GQ magaine. The note came with an invoice - stated as the 3rd one they've sent - and threatening to send me to "outside collection" and asking me "For the small amount you owe, is it worth it to delay?"

I was kind of embarrassed and figured I should write the check immediately. I could have also paid my invoice on-line, but I don't typically do that for a simple reason: too many magazines are running a scam where they take your credit card number and - as a convenience - automatically bill you every time your subscription runs out. Hence, I am writing out a manual check when I realize, "Wait a minute! I've been thinking lately that GQ magazine kind of sucks. It's huge, but has little about fashion, style or upkeep anymore. Instead, the thing is chock full of advertising and articles on the most bizzare innane topics - like that damn mob family that has a reality TV show. I made a mental note that I wasn't going to renew my subscription."

I then realize I may not have actually renewed my GQ subscription - but the bastards are threatening to send me to a collection agency for not paying a subscription I didn't renew. After looking through my financial notes, I see no record of renewal, which is a bit odd for me not to have recorded.

I call GQ's customer service number, and they inform me that they did, in fact, renew my subscription "as a service" to me!! Unbeleivable!! I said one word, "unacceptable." The lady, keeping her composure, which isn't a total surprise, since I'm probably the tenth call like this she's received today, tells me she's canceled my subscription (which again, is odd, since I didn't renew it myself). I feel kind of weird about how cool she's being, particularly stating that "March will be your last issue and, if you receive another invoice, just ignore it and throw it out." (I think that means one is on the way. But still, she was really cool about it.) Overcome with her niceness, I explained that "I know you probably don't work for GQ, so I don't mean to be so curt to you. Thank you so much for your help and have a great day." Of course, this was insane - mostly on my part. Ms. Wonderful manages to not miss a beat and state, "Are you interested in golf? We have a special deal today on Golf Digest for only $12." Stunned by her opportunism, I could only mutter, "No thank you. Have a nice day. Goodbye."

Do you think GQ was really renewing my subscription as a service to me? I think not. I think it is a service to them. I figure some bonehead at GQ figured out that the best way to keep renewal rates up - and thus, subscribers - was to not let them leave. I might be wrong, but I doubt it. I find it very hard to believe that GQ (or their publisher, more accurately) did a market study and found subscribers beside themselves with regret for not having renewed their GQ subscription. All those customers just dying to get their hands on the latest story about the Gotti family and screaming for GQ to solve their problems with something really creative - like an automatic renewal service. (I love that they call this a service. The Orwellian double-speak is admirable.) No, this is a service to the publishers who have figured out that automatically renewing the subscriptions of indifferent subscribers is more profitable - since a large percentage probably don't dispute it - than trying to keep customers by addressing the editorial content. Of course, eventually advertisers will figure out that the response to ads in a magazine run this way is lower than advertising in a magazine people actually want - and the whole thing will backfire. Until then, the bonehead who thought this up gets a promotion and will fire the poor sap in charge of solicting advertisers a couple of years from now.

Hmmm...a good 45 minutes and a voided check later, all I can think is, "Thanks so much for your service. I can't imagine what I'd do without it. OK, I can, I'd be showered and shaved already instead of sitting in front of the computer ranting about your service..."