It’s Time to Renew Your Subscription…or Is It?

DSC_0006I keep getting notices from Sunset magazine that my subscription is up for renewal. It seems my subscription is about to run out. But didn’t I just renew it a few months back?  I remember from years ago when I was a subscriber to TIME magazine (same parent company of Sunset) that they would start sending renewal notices six months before a renewal was due. And the prices kept changing. The longer I waited, the better the prices got, so if I had jumped on the bandwagon before my time, I would have paid 1) for a subscription that still had six months left on it, and 2) a premium price that was at least double what I would pay if I just waited. Something seems morally wrong about this, if not illegal.

So, here is this subscription renewal bill from Sunset for $29 for 1 year. Seems a bit high from what I think I remember paying previously. It says the due date is 10/29/13 and today is 11/4/13. Oops. I’m late–or am I? I go to the website listed on the renewal notice (why pay to mail a check when I can pay online for free?). Surprise! A year’s renewal on the website is $16–not $29 as my mailed renewal notice would have me believe. So I go for it, pay the $16 online, and then make a call to the 800 number for customer service, also listed on the renewal notice, to find out what in the world is going on with the would-be overcharging. Simultaneously I receive an email order and payment confirmation for my just placed renewal.

I was on hold for forever waiting for a customer service rep. Perhaps a lot of people are calling about the attempted hoodwinking of existing subscribers into paying nearly twice what they need to, to renew their subscriptions. Finally, a person answers. She wants my account number, which I dutifully give her, even though I had already entered it to get to the holding position that I’d been in for so long.

The customer service person informs me that I have an “open renewal” on my account, dated July 31, 2013, which is why there has been no interruption to my  subscription. So, what’s the problem and why am I receiving these renewal notices? Suddenly the reason for my call–to find out why there’s a price discrepancy between my bill and the online price–takes a back seat to finding out why I’m getting a bill at all if my subscription auto-renewed back in July. Here’s where things entered the world of double speak.

The customer service woman refuses to believe that I have just placed an online order for my subscription renewal. I tell her I have already received an email confirmation for it, which I have.  She continues to tell me that’s not possible because of the “unfulfilled” automatic renewal (meaning an unpaid for automatic renewal).  I didn’t even try to get her to explain what’s automatic about the renewal if it in fact doesn’t renew anything at all, but just, apparently, registers that I have an unpaid subscription bill, which I should add, I have not been informed about. Interesting. She continues.

According to her, it’s not possible for me to renew my subscription as long as this automatic renewal is unpaid. Still, according to her, she does me a big favor and cancels the automatic renewal, that in fact doesn’t renew anything, so I could then place a renewal order—with her!  What? But I’ve already renewed online. Oh, but wait, she doesn’t believe me, that’s right. So I drop this line of questioning because obviously it’s going nowhere.

Then I ask her about the price discrepancy of $16 to renew online with the $29 I was supposed to pay either by snail mail or with her. First she says the $16 is for new subscribers only. It is not. I have just renewed for that price–this is what she refuses to believe. For whatever reason, she drops that line of explanation and goes into some twisted tale of how different agents offer different prices. OK, but “the agent” I contacted online was the one whose address came with the snail mail bill––isn’t that who she works for? Well, no she tells me, she works for Time, Inc. who owns Sunset, the magazine. Same thing as far as I’m concerned.

So, bottom line is the snail mail notice and the customer service phone person would seem to have been in competition with each other to see which one could get me to pay twice the going online price for a simple subscription renewal. They both lost.

Moral to the story–if you’re told it’s time to renew your subscription, it may not be. It might be a lie. Or, it might be confusion by design, designed to get you as confused as this customer service woman seemed to be, or is it her job just to confuse hapless subscribers like me so that we will pay twice the price? Just don’t believe what the subscription people tell you, and by all means don’t pay until you’ve checked your options–or better yet, opt out and don’t subscribe at all. Your subscription renewal notice is quite possibly not the way it seems.






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