Posted by Kevin Bondelli in Consumer Protection
A few years ago my mom gifted me a subscription to TIME Magazine–she knows I am partial to both print and weekly publications–and has auto-renewed it each year since. It was a $20 or $25/year subscription at the time. However, my mom received an unpleasant surprise when she checked her bank account and saw a $69.95 charge for TIME Magazine. I decided to look into it and found that this auto-renew amount doesn’t seem to add up.
I had received the following email from TIME a few days prior alerting me that the subscription was about to be renewed, but did not think anything of it since it never mentions the amount to be billed.
I had yet to see the most recent issue that came in the mail, but I saw later that it had a cover sheet showing my price of $69.95, a “subscription savings” of 72% off the cover price.
I went to the TIME subscription page to see if that was the posted subscription rate, and was quite surprised to see that an “all-access” subscription to TIME was $30.
I searched throughout the subscription page to make sure it did not say that it was only an initial rate for new subscribers that would eventually go up (like the New York Times), but that language was nowhere to be seen. In fact, the language they use definitely implies that this is not the case. According to this language, my annual subscription should have renewed at the “special low rate then (now) in effect,” which the giant font above told me was $30.
Since I didn’t want my mom to pay 133% more than the “special low rate” for a subscription for me, I went to cancel it by logging in to my subscriber account. I see a message thanking me for my renewal, that again reiterates the “low subscriber rate then in effect at the end of its current term.” The weird thing, however, was that it told me my subscription rate was $64.95, not the $69.95 displayed on the magazine notice or the $69.95 charged to my mom’s debit card or the $30 advertised on their subscription page.
To TIME Magazine‘s credit, they at least make it easy to unsubscribe online, but I imagine there are a lot of people that have auto-renewed their subscriptions without noticing that they are being charged a lot more than it appears they should. I’m sure that there is some legal explanation about what the definition of “special low rate then in effect” is, and the cover of the most recent issue did technically notify me of a price increase (though it’s not the price for other people apparently), but people should be aware.
Pro tip: Don’t auto-renew. If you want to keep subscribing, just manually resubscribe each year at the actual current rate and save yourself $40. I, for one, decided to stay unsubscribed.