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Is your media company turning off readers with its subscription cancellation policy?

Would you return to a restaurant that shouts at you when you make a polite call to cancel your reservation?

Of course not.

Then why are newsbrands doing this when you try to cancel a subscription?

The last few months, I’ve taken digital subscriptions to many newsbrands. At Het Laatste Nieuws/, we just launched our own sports subscription, and I wanted to get inspired by what other colleagues were doing.

While taking a subscription is getting closer to the one-click buy experience of Amazon, what has startled me is how awful newsbrands are at cancelling subscriptions. 

Le Monde takes the first prize at being a pain in the butt. To cancel a digital subscription, the first hurdle is finding out how. Le Monde has nothing on this in their “FAQ — générale” or in their “FAQ — Abonnement au”

After some searching I find the info in the “conditions générales de vente. I have to download a form, print it out, fill it out, sign it, write “lu et approuvé“ under my signature, scan it, and e-mail it to Le Monde. 

And then I’m still one of the lucky guys. Being able to cancel by e-mail is an exception at Le Monde. If I hadn’t taken their first month free offer, I would have had to bring the letter to the post office.  

Unfortunately, Le Monde is not an exception. I’ve had similar bad experiences with other news media companies. At The Times, overseas customers can cancel by writing an e-mail to I’ve written them two mails since October, but have not gotten a reply yet. And it’s quite a hefty subscription: the trial was only £1, but after the first month, it switched to £26 per month.

For those who want to test their debating-techniques, take up a subscription at The Sun and try cancelling. You can only do so by calling their help line. It took me almost five minutes to convince the operator at the call center — who kept launching new arguments to try and convince me to stay — that I really wanted to end my subscription. 

Fortunately, there are some good examples as well.

Cancelling the subscription to The Economist’s Espresso app was just as hassle free as signing up. The result: after a few weeks I missed their content, and came back. 

That is exactly the reason more publishers should stop being such a pain in the butt when dealing with customers who want to end a subscription. These days, lots of readers won’t take a lifelong subscription to your product. We cancel for lots of reasons. Maybe a reader is experiencing a really busy period in his/her life and doesn’t have the time to read. Or maybe a reader has had to make some big expenses.

What it doesn’t mean is that they’ve stopped loving your brand. But that could happen if publishers keep treating cancellations this way.

Let’s just remember the great adagio of Google: “Don’t be evil.”

About Dimitri Antonissen

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