I received an email today about some important changes in the terms of service for Zinio magazine subscribers. On the benign level, you can now enable your iPad to automatically download issues for you. But on the more major level, Zinio has “enabled” continuous service for “most magazines” on your behalf. What this means is that when your initial subscription expires, Zinio will automatically renew it for you (and bill you at whatever price it wants!) without asking. This used to be available as an option; you could choose it or you could choose a standard subscription. What they’ve done is take away the standard subscription option and make this the only way to get magazines.

I most emphatically do not like what I am seeing from Zinio. They seem to do a lot of things for my supposed “convenience” that I don’t choose, such as sending me magazine issues I didn’t ask for, and putting things back that I deleted. And now, they want to bill me for new subscriptions without asking, because they’re worried that renewal notices are bothering me? No. They’re doing this because they know you’re likely to forget your subscription is nearly done, so they can get some extra money out of you before you notice the charges (at which point, if you call to cancel, they’ll refund you for the “unserved issues” you have left). This is called negative billing, and where I live, there was a highly publicized instance of it a few years ago–involving the cable company–in which the government stepped in and told them they couldn’t do it.

And not only that, they’re fudging the details, too. The aforementioned email said it “may” come with this option on “some” subscriptions:

“Starting today, subscription purchases on Zinio.com may come with automatic continuous service. This means select subscriptions will automatically renew. No interruptions in service, and no need for reminders.”

I went and checked the legal notices and terms of service on the Zinio site, however, and found something different. There, it says this applies to all subscriptions:

“All subscription orders will include “Continuous Service,” which enables you to receive uninterrupted delivery of Publications until you cancel your subscriptions. You may cancel subscriptions at any time and receive a refund for any unserved issues (see Refund Policy below). With Continuous Service, after all issues of a Publication in your initial subscription period have been served, you will be billed automatically, at the end of your initial subscription period, for the next subscription period in accordance with the then-current offer terms applicable to that Publication as they appear on our Service.”

So, let’s say you had a subscription for which you paid $20 for the year. Had they sent you a standard renewal notice prior to this service change, you would have either renewed it, or not renewed it, and when it was done, you had nothing left to do. How would this work now? Read on:

  1. Let’s say you don’t remember to notify Zinio to cancel the subscription before the term is done. (Because who keeps track of how many issues they have left of a particular magazine subscription?)
  2. Now, let’s say they’ve raised the price of the magazine to $24 dollars. Zinio, without asking, will bill you the $24 and automatically renew the subscription for you—and you won’t see that they’ve done so until the billing is finished and they’ve “served” you an issue.
  3. So you send in your cancellation request, and they’ll tell you that’s fine, and they’ll refund you the unused portion. But they’ll keep $2 for the issue they sent you already.

This is not Zinio being worried that you feel pestered by renewal emails. Nor is it Zinio being worried about your convenience. This is Zinio blatantly trying to trick you out of your money. I disapprove.

Last year, I was ready to let my Zinio subscriptions lapse, but then they sent me a bunch of $10 coupons, so I renewed some of them. I won’t do that again!

Zinio: Unless you restore my option to subscribe like a regular person—to pay for a year and get a year, no strings attached—I’m done. And readers out there, please be careful and always read the terms before you buy. You don’t want to be tricked into signing up for something you didn’t ask for.

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UPDATE: On Saturday, August 18, Zinio’s chief marketing officer and global executive vice president, Jeanniey Mullen, responded with the following comment:

Hi. Im the CMO of Zinio and wanted to clarify a few items from the above string. My email is jmullen@zinio.com if you wanted to continue the conversation directly with me. I would welcome your constructive feedback.

  1. Zinio has not removed or changed your library management features. At any time you can log into your Zinio account and go to “account settings.” There, you can see how many issues of a title you have left, and turn the continuous service option on or off.
  2. If you have titles that were not set to continuous service before, those titles have not been changed. This change is focused on “select” new purchased only.
  3. Yes, we did change the terms to include the ability to leave continuous service on at purchase, but at the current date there are only a few titles which have this feature activated. Most titles still provide the option to uncheck the box (see Forbes as an example).
  4. A number of new features and service enhancements have been activated that we hope you will enjoy: Android users can enjoy notifications of new issues delivered right to their device, as well as a scrolling article widget to help pass the time. And, iPad users can enjoy auto-issue download.

We have a number of additional enhancements that will be released over the next few months and look forward to continuing to create a positive environment that will enable you to explore and enjoy digital magazines from around the world.

Don’t worry Joanna–your ability to choose how you want to subscribe is still all yours. Feel free to call or email me in the future if you have any questions about changes we are communicating.

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UPDATE: TeleRead’s Joanna Cabot responds:

Ms. Mullen,

I appreciate your clarifications regarding the story I wrote on Teleread the other day about Zinio’s recent polity change. I stand by the story—I verified the information from my customer email by cross-checking it with the terms of service on Zinio’s site, which I quoted directly to ensure maximum accuracy and clarity. I did point out that the change did not apply to previous purchases and only to new ones, and I mentioned the auto-download for iPads feature as well.

The fact that ‘most’ titles still do provide readers with the standard subscription option to which they are accustomed does not, in my opinion, mitigate the discomfort I feel as a reader and customer with the removal of this option as a policy decision on the part of Zinio. I do think that not giving customers the option to opt out of this feature is disingenuous and not good business practice. I was careful to clarify in my article that this was commentary; that it was opinion. And, in my opinion, it was an opinion that was worth sharing with our readers so that they could make educated decisions about the media they consume. I think most people don’t read the terms of service when they sign up, and I think this policy change is a good example of why people should. I think it was a needed reminder. And, as you will see from the comments, there were a few posters who read the new information and didn’t much care. They still deserved to have the facts available to them.

My bottom line, as a customer, is that you have (at least in some instances) taken away an option that I had previously, and I am justified in being dismayed about that. The email claimed that this new policy was for my benefit and convenience. I don’t see how removing an option I’d previously had, and then forcing me to take the extra step of going to the website to log in and check my settings to manually change them back, is for my benefit at all. It feels like it is for your benefit, and as a customer, I bristle at that.

With that said, your desire to respond to the story and interact with your customers in a forum like ours is commendable, and I thank you for your response.


Joanna Cabot | Senior Writer, TeleRead.com