My grandfather passed away many years ago at the ripe old age of 88. He left a legacy that included perpetual fruitcakes (not referring to my brother, but to a multi-year post-death pre-paid Christmas delivery of doorstop cakes to everyone in the family).  

This happening in the 1980s gave the family an annual holiday giggle and we wondered why grandpa did this (was it a six-year special or a legacy joke?). Since this was pre-Internet and, most likely, pre-credit card renewal, grandpa, likely wrote a check, mailed it and ultimately balanced his checkbook (a real book).

Which gets me to 2012 and other types of legacies. How about the legacy subscription? I spent an hour Saturday morning trying to cancel my Wall Street Journal subscription on its website. It isn’t because I no longer want the Journal, it’s because they have offered me (by mail) a far superior offer than my perpetual subscription that renews with my credit card.

As an aside, you would think that they had audience development and list managers who would de-dupe and catch this stuff.

But my catching it on Saturday didn’t much matter. And that is because unless I want to telephone the Journal’s subscription department, there is no way to cancel my subscription on their website (or at least none that I could find). While I am not suggesting anything sinister in Murdoch-land, I am suggesting that there may be some folks trying to think of me as one of those perpetual fruitcakes.

I am not picking on the Journal—this is true for many publishers. I think it is time to own up to some not-so-great practices and adopt better ones. Auto-renewal is fine, but there does need to be an easier “out” and an easier way to understand when you can get out without having to wait on a phone call or read endless Qs and As, particularly when you are given better offers. I do like the way some of the titles are set up in the iTunes Store. Esquire has nailed a very civilized way of getting in or out of a subscription online. So has the new Huffington. But then there is the always-elegant The Atlantic, which politely thanks me for my support for 10 issues but I can’t figure out when my support began or ends.

The Web should up the game for publishers and subscription management. Right?

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