Why Is Account Management on Newspaper and Magazine Websites So Bad?

I have long been a reader of newspapers and magazines. It might be my age, but as much as possible, I like to get my news in a slower format that rapid-fire articles on the web. As such, I have subscribed to a number of magazines and newspapers – both in print and digital – over the years. After an experience this morning, I scratch my head and wonder why, of all the categories of subscription content available on the internet, why are these websites so bad?

Today’s experience was with the Times Literary Supplement. I subscribed to a print and digital package last month, but hadn’t yet browsed the website beyond the number of free articles I’m allowed to see. I went to log in with the email and password that I had saved during the subscription process, and that failed. I clicked a Forgot My Password link, got a new password, and that failed.

So, I had to call the TLS’s customer support. After a first call dropped when I was being put through to the appropriate support person, I got through to someone who said that I must not have followed through with the entire process when I subscribed. in fact, he found no trace of my digital account at all, even though it should have been created when I subscribed.

I’ll fast forward to the part where, ten minutes later, after he gave me a very simple temporary password to log into the website, I went looking for a My Account link to change it to a secure password. It turns out that there is no such link. You have to go to a different website, for which the patient Will at customer service could send me a link.

(It must be easy to log into people’s accounts on the TLS website; the support person said that there are a lot of problems like this, and he clearly gives everyone the same temporary password, which I assume most people do not change.)

Think about that: you cannot access your account from a website to which you are subscribed. You have to know that there is a different website, and you have to have the link.

In any case, I changed the password, then promptly cancelled my subscription. I’m tired of these websites not working. When I give a company my money for a subscription, I don’t expect to have to waste time with customer service. And I’m particularly worried about the TLS’s cavalier approach to accounts, and how secure people’s data is.

Here are some examples of what I’ve experienced in the past with other publications.

  • When one subscribes to the New York Times, there is no way to make changes to your subscription, or to cancel a subscription, online. You must call customer service. For a company providing a high level of digital content, this is ridiculous. I can understand that, say, ten years ago, this was the case, but it hasn’t changed.
  • For several years, I subscribed to Harper’s. Then I was unable to log into my account. No password reset link worked, emails were not successful, and I was not pleased about having to make an international call to customer support. I got access again, but the next year, after re-subscribing, the same thing happened. I let that subscription lapse.
  • I subscribed for a while to Aperture, a magazine about photography. I didn’t want to continue the subscription after the first year, but there was no way to cancel the subscription online, and the company did not answer my emails. When they charged my credit card for a second year, I had to contest the change, and the company did not respond to my bank’s communications; I was eventually advised by my bank to cancel my credit card and have them issue a new one to ensure that they wouldn’t bill me again. That was in 2018. In August 2019, I received an email saying that they were having payment issues trying to renew my subscription again.
  • I had subscribed to the New Yorker off and on for many years. A few months ago, I re-subscribed, to a digital only package, and was not sent any information about how to log in. I emailed the company repeatedly, and, a few days after I subscribed, they said that it can take up to a week for foreign customers to get their login information. I immediately cancelled my subscription.

To be fair, there is one subscription that works as it should: The Washington Post. I’ve never had a problem subscribing, logging in, or renewing. The only complaint I have about the Washington Post is that they are very aggressive at logging people out, and it seems like I have to constantly log in again, whenever I want to read something.

I don’t know why this happens, but I have a feeling that in the US, since magazines and newspapers tend to outsource their subscription management and related customer service, that these companies are archaic in their operation, having existed managing print subscriptions for a long time, and just haven’t understood that the process online is different. In no other industry do I have this sort of problem with subscriptions: not for web services, digital content, or subscription-based apps.