1 June 2023

A few years ago I took out a £2 a month digital subscription to The New York Times, which I thought great value for such a good newspaper. Accordingly, I recommended the deal to students. Now I have little use for it and had begun to think about cancelling my subscription, which I was told when I took it out could be done ‘at any time’. This decision was hardened when I read in my latest bank statement that my subscription had just jumped from £2 to £8 a month. OK, there has been a great deal of inflation – but four times the original rate?

Searching for how to cancel, I found that I had three choices. Plan A: phone the paper – but it was unclear whether the number given for ‘Great Britain’ was a UK or a US number. Trying the number given as a UK number simply produced a continuous tone, while adding the prefix for the US brought a ‘sorry, that number has not been recognised’. So to Plan B: Go to ‘Your account’ > ‘Subscription Overview’ > ‘Cancel your subscription’.  Surprise, surprise, I sign in successfully with my email and password – but there is no ‘Subscription overview’. Somewhere else I read while groping through this maze that if ‘Subscription Overview’ does not appear it is because the reader does not have a billing account, as if it were not such an account that I was trying to cancel. Finally to Plan C: Chat, which I hate because I have slightly impaired vision and only type (slowly) with two fingers. I politely warned ‘Emily’ (a robot?)  about my slowness but it cut no ice. Admittedly, she was possibly turned off, too, by the fact that, although I had given the account number, the new email I had been allowed to use to enter my account was not the one I had opened it with, but she abandoned me when I was on the point of providing this. Three subsequent attempts to start a ‘Chat’ were ignored.  Even had I been able to handle the ‘Crap’ – sorry ‘Chat’ – format, I gather from this instructive piece by *Nir Eyal that I would have had to endure a strenuous attempt to dissuade me from cancelling. I am bound to conclude that the whole system is deliberately designed to make it difficult to escape The Times’s clutches. Read The Guardian and Politico instead.

All of this took me at least an hour and a half and I had failed completely to cancel my subscription.

*‘The New York Times Uses the Very Dark Patterns it Derides’

Post script, 3 June: One of my daughters told me that the phone number provided for ‘Great Britain’ should have had a ‘0’ at the front. I tried that and … bingo! So the number given was incorrect. In fairness to The Times, I quickly got through to a very helpful human being who soon sorted me out; he also noted the incorrect number provided on their website. As to the absence of ‘Subscription overview’ on  my  ‘Your account’, he said that this was because I was now using a different email from the one I had given when opening my account, although the down side of this was not mentioned when I was allowed entry to ‘Your account’ with my new email!