Canceling Subscriptions & Supporting Institutions
I cancelled my subscription to Foreign Policy yesterday afternoon, spurred by an email from FP about an upcoming auto-renewal charge. The quality of the print journal has been in decline for several years, no doubt due, at least in part, to structural challenges the publishing industry faces. I am sympathetic to that; I know firsthand (though at much smaller scale) how hard it is to keep a print publication going in 2018, especially when other outlets are giving similar articles away for free online. In that respect, I feel bad about this parting, because I believe sound, sensation-free journalism & well-informed editorial opinion matters, now as much (or more) than ever. Publications, like FP, that present issues in detailed, yet plain, language have an important place in our culture and provide valuable service to our society.
To cancel, the email indicated I had to call an 800-number during US East Coast business hours, Monday–Friday only, in order to deauthorize the recurring charge to my credit card. There was no way to cancel my subscription through my FP account, or through any other online account service portal. And that, I think, offers a counterpoint: FP ’s embrace of the web’s digital-first reality has been, well, modest. Yes, FP sent email digests from different “desks.” Yes, FP is on social media. Yes, FP eventually started a podcast — in October 2018. (Mid-October 2018.) Yes, FP destroyed its RSS feeds (wait, that move was aligned with contemporary trends in web publication). FP ’s website redesign, hitched to a brand update, surfaced some “content” & buried other pieces & voices while chasing the digital equivalent of glossy visual appeal. Despite being managed by the same publishing entity as Slate, FP wasn’t exactly giving me a compelling sense that it understands how an indispensable, yet boutique, publication needs to evolve in order to survive.
Striking a balance between supporting vital institutions and holding them accountable is never simple, especially in an era when our institutions seem particularly vulnerable. When the person who took my call asked why I was canceling, I said the journal’s quality had really slipped in the eighteen months. How do you send that message in a supportive way that still holds a publication to account?