When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

06 January 2006

Magazine publishers get desperate; online retailers act as enablers

It seems that magazine publishers, facing declining readership in the Web age, are pairing off with online retailers to pad their subscription rolls. Buy something online, and you could find yourself with a "gift subscription" to a magazine you couldn't care less about (or, as in my case, a couple that cause your gorge actively to rise.)

Warning: you could be their next victim, if you buy anything online... at least from eBags.com or yourmusic.com.

Here's what happened.

Last week, I received, unasked for and most definitely unwanted, a subscription to Newsweek.

When I called Newsweek subscription services to find out how on earth this had happened, they referred me to an outfit called ValueMags.com. They had an 800 number.

ValueMags told me that I had been "gifted" with a subscription to Newsweek via eBags.com (I *did* buy some luggage there last year, so I knew who they were.)

eBags has a toll-free number, too. When I called eBags to ask what was going on, I was politely informed that they had a promotion going on; whenever you buy something at their site, you're automatically subscribed to your choice of one of three magazines, though they *do* give you the ability to "opt out" (assuming, of course, that you notice it in their shopping cart... I made a living for a few years designing user interfaces for web sites, and I certainly didn't notice my opt-out option, nor did I "choose" a magazine; I can only assume that Newsweek is the default choice.)

Well, that's easy enough to deal with. I cancelled my subscription to Newsweek (twice, for good measure--once at Newsweek, once at ValueMags) and instructed eBags never to get in touch with me for any reason ever again.

Hell will be a Frigidaire dealership before I buy another backpack or suitcase from them or recommend them to anyone else. Not a great loss, perhaps, but I did drop a few hundred dollars on bags and travel accessories at their place in 2005; that won't be happening again.

Then, today... a copy of Entertainment Weekly showed up. Unasked for, and, again, definitely unwanted.

eBags again? Nope. This time the culprit was BMG Music Club, which runs yourmusic.com, a place where back-catalog CDs can be purchased for cheap.

I couldn't get an actual human being on the phone there, but--extra points for having a good user interface--I was able to cancel my account online immediately from the web site and send them a little love note explaining why.

And, again: Hades, snowballs, ice cubes, etc. Spent about a hundred dollars with yourmusic already and had thirty-plus CDs in my queue.

Buh-bye, now.

I don't have time to read the magazines that I already subscribe to and want to read, much less odious, half-bright crap like Newsweek and Entertainment Weekly.

Memorandum to the web merchants I do business with:

When I order something from you, I want it sold to me at a fair price and shipped quickly. That's all I want, mmkay?

I definitely don't want you to choose reading material for me, even if I have the alleged ability to "opt out." I don't want a damned thing but what I've ordered and paid you for.

I've just opted out of doing business with eBags or yourmusic ever again.

Avoid, avoid.

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