Politics & Media
Nov 23, 2023, 06:29AM

Cancel My Subscription to the Insubordination

Man, it’s hard.

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Due credit on this Thanksgiving: Last Sunday I read a “Guest Essay” in The New York Times that didn’t sour my stomach, zap my eyes or consider canceling my subscription. (That’ll never happen since my wife, bless her heart, is a dedicated crossword puzzle enthusiast—she harrumphs when hearing some people fill in the blanks with a pen instead of pencil—and prefers completing that morning ritual on print.) David Mack’s essay was about canceling subscriptions and why so few people go through the hoops to do that. Unlike the rote, and sanctimonious, words of David French, Thomas Friedman or “Bidenomics” champion Paul Krugman—the discredited economist who nonetheless continues to live large because Times editors are afraid to metaphorically put him down—Mack made me think for more than five seconds. That’s something to be thankful for!

He writes: “There’s… evidence we are spending way more on subscriptions than we even realize. Last year, C+R Research asked 1,000 people to estimate what they fork over in subscription costs before actually having to itemize this spending. They found the average monthly cost was $219—more than 2.5 times higher than the $86 that people guessed.”

I didn’t bite on the guessing part; the total in our household isn’t especially profligate, probably because our subscriptions are utilitarian (that might be a self-toast) and not far afield, to me, like some that Mack mentions: Sweetgreen premiere loyalty program ($10/month), the meditation Calm app ($69.99 annually) or Fitbod app ($12.99/month).

I’ve no plans to cancel the Times (which I hear is nearly impossible), Wall Street Journal, digital access to The Boston Globe or Baltimore Sun (pretty cheap as I recall, but I can’t swear to that) or The New Yorker digital—the measly pros and Bunyanesque cons that I wrote about recently. One day a few years ago, because I ran out of monthly “free articles” I signed on to The Washington Post’s digital, and I’ll cancel that when I have three hours to kill on the phone. Translation: I’ll be associated with The Post, however tangentially, far longer than Jeff Bezos, who, if you believe media reports (I don’t) is tired of losing money on his ostensible vehicle for access to the Beltway elite and the favors they can provide him.

I don’t subscribe to any Substacks (my friend Oliver Bateman generously “gifted” me his very worthwhile ‘stack; and though the guilt nags at me I read Michael Maiello—a good guy and fascinating writer—for free), so that’s money saved.

American culture is at the point where admitting that you’re an Amazon Prime member, like me, doesn’t get you in trouble, with bleats of, “Corporate pig, support independent stores!” I would make book purchases at local retailers, but most of them have long been replaced by another CVS or Sweetgreen. Years ago, I bought books and CDs at Barnes & Noble, but their prices were higher than Amazon and once the newsstands thinned at locations, I gave up.

On TV, in addition to Prime, I pay for Netflix (not much there, but Ozark and Peaky Blinders made it worthwhile, in addition to an occasional documentary; last Sunday, I started Pine Gap, not bad, when for some reason Prime was on the fritz) and Hulu. Also Peacock, although after their re-jiggering the shows now come with regular commercials, which isn’t cricket for a premium channel. When The Beatles “Get Back” marathon began a couple of years ago I signed on to Apple TV+ and that was a mistake. There’s little content of interest, save some baseball games in the summer. Once when the Red Sox were on that channel I tried to tune in, but it required about 10 steps of password/email/credit card information, and I didn’t have the patience to complete that process, so I followed the ballgame on my iPhone while I was boiling about Apple’s ruse (obviously legal, but deceitful from where I sit) to keep subscribers. Oh, forgot about Max, and though I’ve had my fill, for now, of re-watching The Sopranos, there’s lots of quality programming.

Finally, once Elon Musk made users pay for “blue checks” on the former Twitter, causing that month’s stir about the “hellsite” that people complain about… on X, as most know it’s now called, I went against the grain and committed $8/month for the privilege. But then my account was hacked, and since it’s apparent X has almost no “customer support” I couldn’t resolve it without an extended Apple TV+ experience, and started a new account from scratch. I’m not a “follower” whore who keeps track, so my low number now doesn’t really bother me. The company continued to charge me for the “blue check” that was hacked, insulting, but for once it didn’t take long to cancel future payments with my credit card.

—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023

  • For me, a disincentive to getting an NYT subscription is knowing, from experience, that canceling it will require a conversation ( after waiting on hold) with someone trying to talk you out of it.

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  • I don't think WaPo is similarly hard to cancel. https://helpcenter.washingtonpost.com/hc/en-us/articles/360000177571-How-to-cancel-your-digital-only-subscription

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  • I like to cancel things by credit card ghosting. I just go online and switch the credit card number or its expiration date and billing zip code. Or I batch de-subscribe when I ask for a new credit or debit card every year or so when I find some unexplained charge that I cannot identify.

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