Open-ended magazine subscriptions: somehow against the law in UK/US/(F?)?

As I am/was subscribed to a number of magazines from a number of countries there is one noticeable difference in the publishers’ administration of subscriptions that I noticed:

a) magazines from the UK, the US, and the one French magazine that I subscribe to

Some months before the subscription period expires I begin to get snail mail asking me to resubscribe; sometimes (when I gave a telephone number) telephone calls from Indian gentlemen to the same purpose. Even if I reply immediately I often get second and third reminders, due to postal and data entry delays. With every one of these subscriptions the publisher require a positive statement that I want to continue the subscription for another subscription period (usually a year).

b) German newspapers and magazines, and the one Belgian magazine that I subscribe to (but the latter is by an Esperanto organization that I have a current account with)

The terms of the subscriptions state a first subscription period, with a provision that the subscription automatically renews itself unless cancelled by the subscriber. Sometimes there is an option to opt out of auto-renewal. Consequently I get no requests to resubscribe, only invoices (for the sort of magazine that can be claimed against tax); the publishers help themselves to my money as appropriate by direct debit which usually is the only way I find out that a new subscription period has started.

Now obviously the second method (b) is much more advantageous to publishers, as they retain the slackers and the people who don’t care much either way about the subscription. There must be a reason why they choose (a) instead. Lack of a direct debit facility surely is not reason enough - they could have autorenewing subscriptions and ask subscribers by invoice to pay up (which is a different thing from asking them to order a subscription renewal and include payment). Often the credit card used for the original subscription has not expired.

So, is (b) against the law in the countries named?

It isn’t against the law in the USA. I have occasionally received solicitations from publishers who offer to “save me the trouble” of writing a check every time their subscription is up for renewal. The problem is that many people, such as myself, are very wary of automatic withdrawals. They are often much easier to sign up for than to cancel. There is also the issue of billing disputes. It is harder to get your money back from a company than it is to not give it to them in the first place.

Pretty much every library has its magazine subscriptions set up so that they are automatically renewed unless the library tells the publisher or vendor that handles the subscription to stop. Most library subscription are through a middleman to centralize payments.

Some subscriptions on our annual list are listed as “non-cancellable”. But that means we can’t ask for the subscription to be stopped midway through the term of the subscription. Rarely does a library cut off a subscription in midyear.

I suspect that mks57 hits on it: there is a trade off. If the magazine goes for option (a) they’ll find it easier to persuade people to sign up in the first place, if they go for (b) there’s the advantage you outline.

Maybe it’s a bit of a “line ball” as to which sales method is better, but one is more trendy than another in some countries.

My Sports Illustrated subscription is set up on an automatic renewel plan, so I’m guessing it’s not illegal in the US.

Now, the fact that they just signed me up for the automatic renewal without me requesting it is a bit sleazy, but since I would’ve signed up for it myself anyway, I can’t quite get up enough ambition to be upset about it.