On March 18, 2006 I received a note by mail from "The Billing Center", a Time Magazine affiliate, advising that my account was past due. This was interesting because I had not received any magazines since I let the subscription lapse in December 2005. Their note read:
PAST DUE NOTICE FOR < our name >
|When you enrolled in Time's automatic subscription renewal program, you requested uninterrupted delivery of your subscription. You could cancel at any time.
|Time never received cancellation instructions, however, the records reflect that you still haven't made a payment for your current service term. $72.20 is now due.
The note then advises that Time values me as a customer, that this is probably an oversight, and they want me to pay the balance due right away. The note, signed by "Nina Matula, TCM Payment Manager", concludes:
The moment payment is received, your account will be credited "Paid in Full," and your subscription service will be reinstated.
Most magazines suspend your subscription if you don't pay. Now I am being told that there was some sort of agreement to continue the subscription unless I wrote them a letter to cancel. If so, why did they stop sending their magazines? Why did they wait 90 days to send a dunning notice?
The statement that "The moment payment is received your account will be credited...." appears to be marketing hype. I seriously doubt their computer system is waiting to release my next magazine instantly. It takes time to clear payments and re-authorize an account. Plus, what a "TCM Payment Manager"?
The letter included a Web address for online resolution of account problems. There seems to be a distinct focus on the way this feature operates:
I attempted to cancel the subscription and received this message: This account is no longer active in our records. To order, click on the Renew Your Subscription link.
When I clicked the option to renew the subscription I received another message: You have a current bill outstanding. To pay, click the "Pay your Bill" service option.
When I clicked the option to pay my bill I was taken to a screen showing that my last service period was through 01/02/06, and reminding me of the benefits of a subscription, along with the amount they claimed was due. I was also advised that "Your LASER LEVEL PRO is wrapped and ready to be shipped as soon as we receive your full payment." Sounds like more marketing fluff. I just wish I knew what a Laser Level Pro is.
I found an option to send a message to customer service so I advised them to close the account, which appears to be closed anyway. It was only when I reached this part of the Website that I was asked to check options if I did NOT want to receive marketing offers from Time Magazine by e-mail or if I did NOT want to receive third-party offers by e-mail. Apparently contacting Time Magazine allows them to to harvest your e-mail address unless you can figure out how to tell them not to.
Time Magazine is part of AOL Time Warner. AOL is notorious for not closing accounts when subscribers want to cancel their service. It seems their customer service agents were being rewarded for salvaging accounts that were being closed, often by simply not processing the cancellation request. Perhaps "The Billing Center" is trying to keep this tradition alive with Time Magazine.
Several days after receiving this notice I saw an article in the newspaper concerning Time Magazine and their subscription renewal practices. It seems they were sending out notices trying to intimidate people into renewing their magazine subscriptions. The judge was not amused and Time was fined a rather substantial amount.