Better Homes and Gardens promises to end threatening renewal letters

Grumpy Editor
Hal Morris (aka Grumpy Editor) complains that the renewal notices for Better Homes and Gardens “border on something that would originate from the IRS or a collection agency.” He decided against renewing the Meredith title, but still received this notice:

As you know, we have been very patient, but your bill is now seriously delinquent.

We fully expect you to resolve this situation as honorably as you began it…please pay your debt now.

More demands for the $12 supposedly owed followed. Morris writes: “Also, unlike other magazines that provide postage-paid envelopes for renewal payments, envelopes from both Better Homes and Gardens pitches require readers to affix stamps. Bottom line: Would a normal subscriber renew after those tongue-lashings?”

I sent Morris’ column to Meredith and asked them about the aggressive renewal pitch. Meredith spokesman Patrick Taylor responded:

We certainly understand the confusion expressed here, and in fact, after a discussion with our consumer marketing group, I learned that we are currently changing the process and package notifying customers regarding their subscription expirations. We agree that the current language needs clarification and are working to make these changes and improve the process.

We apologize for any confusion or concerns these mailings may have caused this customer, and hope that as we implement our new efforts, we can eliminate these problems.

From RYAN HOLEYWELL: I was stunned at your post regarding the threatening magazine renewal notice. Just a few months ago, I received a letter with similar language regarding a Popular Mechanics subscription. Upon further investigation online, I saw that many people who had subscribed to Hearst magazines had received similar threats. This is probably illegal, and if Hearst is doing it, it’s probably done industry-wide. I’d really love to see the DOJ get involved.

As a magazine man, this disgusts me. At a time when people are fleeing from our print publications, we shouldn’t be threatening the few people who are willing to actually pay for our product. Its taints the reputations of magazine journalists, because we get lumped in with the corporate knuckleheads who thought sending these letters out was a good idea.


I just did some research online and found the language I receive on my notice from Hearst. It was the same language this woman posted on her blog.

“Dear subscriber, when you ordered your subscription with the convenience of being billed later, we fully believed you would send payment upon receipt of your invoice. Since we have no record of your payment at this time, your good standing with us is at risk. You can resolve this matter quickly and easily by returning the subscription invoice with your payment in the enclosed envelope.”

Of course, I had never subscribed to Popular Mechanics. My immediate fear was that my credit would somehow get messed up. I was also pissed off that someone was assailing my integrity. When I finally got a hold of someone in billing — the threatening letter didn’t have a phone number on it, so this in itself was a time consuming task – I was told that your credit couldn’t be affected by a magazine subscription, I didn’t owe any money, and to forget about it.

Just Google “Hearst scam,” or the language from the letter. It’s clearly a widespread tactic. It’s pathetic that magazines can’t get readers to buy their publications, so they have to trick, bully and threaten them into doing so.

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  • Jan Shaw

    It’s how Hearst operates with its subscription “renewals” and it’s quite awful to be on the receiving end of it.  Ihad the exact same experience a number of years ago with one of the Hearst’s home magazines and it about half scared me.

    And then Hearst’s Patrick Taylor’s response citing ‘confusion’ and ‘clarification?’  Talk about spineless spin.   It’s a deliberate policy and I’m grateful somebody finally called them on it.  I doubt, however, that they will change.  They seem to like the fear tactic.  

  • bethkujawski

    Wow, and I thought the worst offense from a magazine was allowing a Bill Me option, then taking forever to send a first issue (I don’t pay the bill until I receive the first issue), and then sending a Past Due notice for the invoice before the first issue arrives. I immediately write “CANCEL” on the invoice and send it back along with a terse note. (Why they can coordinate billing and fulfillment is beyond me.) But what I’m reading here borders on gobsmacking.

  • Dan Mitchell

    “Confusion,” indeed. Patrick Taylor seems very good at using lot of words to say nothing. 

  • Dan Mitchell

    “Confusion,” indeed. Patrick Taylor seems very good at using lot of words to say nothing. 

  • Bradley J. Fikes

    Jim, on further reading of the reply, I think your headline let Meredith off the hook too easily. Where in the reply did Meredith say anything to the effect that it “promises to end threatening renewal letters”?

    In the quoted material, the spokesman said the company is working toward “clarification” of the language in the renewal letters, and they “hope” to eliminate the problems (which the spokesman doesn’t specify).

    Parse that language, and you should see that it doesn’t actually commit the company to any outcome.

  • Bradley J. Fikes

    Pretending that the offended customer suffers from “confusion” must be what they teach in PR weenie school these days.

    Meredith’s non-apology apology also failed to address Grumpy editor’s complaint that he didn’t owe any money in the first place.