I received an email today about some important changes in the terms of service for Zinio magazine subscribers. On the benign level, you can now enable your iPad to automatically download issues for you. But on the more major level, Zinio has “enabled” continuous service for “most magazines” on your behalf. What this means is that when your initial subscription expires, Zinio will automatically renew it for you (and bill you at whatever price it wants!) without asking. This used to be available as an option; you could choose it or you could choose a standard subscription. What they’ve done is take away the standard subscription option and make this the only way to get magazines.

I most emphatically do not like what I am seeing from Zinio. They seem to do a lot of things for my supposed “convenience” that I don’t choose, such as sending me magazine issues I didn’t ask for, and putting things back that I deleted. And now, they want to bill me for new subscriptions without asking, because they’re worried that renewal notices are bothering me? No. They’re doing this because they know you’re likely to forget your subscription is nearly done, so they can get some extra money out of you before you notice the charges (at which point, if you call to cancel, they’ll refund you for the “unserved issues” you have left). This is called negative billing, and where I live, there was a highly publicized instance of it a few years ago–involving the cable company–in which the government stepped in and told them they couldn’t do it.

And not only that, they’re fudging the details, too. The aforementioned email said it “may” come with this option on “some” subscriptions:

“Starting today, subscription purchases on Zinio.com may come with automatic continuous service. This means select subscriptions will automatically renew. No interruptions in service, and no need for reminders.”

I went and checked the legal notices and terms of service on the Zinio site, however, and found something different. There, it says this applies to all subscriptions:

“All subscription orders will include “Continuous Service,” which enables you to receive uninterrupted delivery of Publications until you cancel your subscriptions. You may cancel subscriptions at any time and receive a refund for any unserved issues (see Refund Policy below). With Continuous Service, after all issues of a Publication in your initial subscription period have been served, you will be billed automatically, at the end of your initial subscription period, for the next subscription period in accordance with the then-current offer terms applicable to that Publication as they appear on our Service.”

So, let’s say you had a subscription for which you paid $20 for the year. Had they sent you a standard renewal notice prior to this service change, you would have either renewed it, or not renewed it, and when it was done, you had nothing left to do. How would this work now? Read on:

  1. Let’s say you don’t remember to notify Zinio to cancel the subscription before the term is done. (Because who keeps track of how many issues they have left of a particular magazine subscription?)
  2. Now, let’s say they’ve raised the price of the magazine to $24 dollars. Zinio, without asking, will bill you the $24 and automatically renew the subscription for you—and you won’t see that they’ve done so until the billing is finished and they’ve “served” you an issue.
  3. So you send in your cancellation request, and they’ll tell you that’s fine, and they’ll refund you the unused portion. But they’ll keep $2 for the issue they sent you already.

This is not Zinio being worried that you feel pestered by renewal emails. Nor is it Zinio being worried about your convenience. This is Zinio blatantly trying to trick you out of your money. I disapprove.

Last year, I was ready to let my Zinio subscriptions lapse, but then they sent me a bunch of $10 coupons, so I renewed some of them. I won’t do that again!

Zinio: Unless you restore my option to subscribe like a regular person—to pay for a year and get a year, no strings attached—I’m done. And readers out there, please be careful and always read the terms before you buy. You don’t want to be tricked into signing up for something you didn’t ask for.

* * *

UPDATE: On Saturday, August 18, Zinio’s chief marketing officer and global executive vice president, Jeanniey Mullen, responded with the following comment:

Hi. Im the CMO of Zinio and wanted to clarify a few items from the above string. My email is jmullen@zinio.com if you wanted to continue the conversation directly with me. I would welcome your constructive feedback.

  1. Zinio has not removed or changed your library management features. At any time you can log into your Zinio account and go to “account settings.” There, you can see how many issues of a title you have left, and turn the continuous service option on or off.
  2. If you have titles that were not set to continuous service before, those titles have not been changed. This change is focused on “select” new purchased only.
  3. Yes, we did change the terms to include the ability to leave continuous service on at purchase, but at the current date there are only a few titles which have this feature activated. Most titles still provide the option to uncheck the box (see Forbes as an example).
  4. A number of new features and service enhancements have been activated that we hope you will enjoy: Android users can enjoy notifications of new issues delivered right to their device, as well as a scrolling article widget to help pass the time. And, iPad users can enjoy auto-issue download.

We have a number of additional enhancements that will be released over the next few months and look forward to continuing to create a positive environment that will enable you to explore and enjoy digital magazines from around the world.

Don’t worry Joanna–your ability to choose how you want to subscribe is still all yours. Feel free to call or email me in the future if you have any questions about changes we are communicating.

* * *

UPDATE: TeleRead’s Joanna Cabot responds:

Ms. Mullen,

I appreciate your clarifications regarding the story I wrote on Teleread the other day about Zinio’s recent polity change. I stand by the story—I verified the information from my customer email by cross-checking it with the terms of service on Zinio’s site, which I quoted directly to ensure maximum accuracy and clarity. I did point out that the change did not apply to previous purchases and only to new ones, and I mentioned the auto-download for iPads feature as well.

The fact that ‘most’ titles still do provide readers with the standard subscription option to which they are accustomed does not, in my opinion, mitigate the discomfort I feel as a reader and customer with the removal of this option as a policy decision on the part of Zinio. I do think that not giving customers the option to opt out of this feature is disingenuous and not good business practice. I was careful to clarify in my article that this was commentary; that it was opinion. And, in my opinion, it was an opinion that was worth sharing with our readers so that they could make educated decisions about the media they consume. I think most people don’t read the terms of service when they sign up, and I think this policy change is a good example of why people should. I think it was a needed reminder. And, as you will see from the comments, there were a few posters who read the new information and didn’t much care. They still deserved to have the facts available to them.

My bottom line, as a customer, is that you have (at least in some instances) taken away an option that I had previously, and I am justified in being dismayed about that. The email claimed that this new policy was for my benefit and convenience. I don’t see how removing an option I’d previously had, and then forcing me to take the extra step of going to the website to log in and check my settings to manually change them back, is for my benefit at all. It feels like it is for your benefit, and as a customer, I bristle at that.

With that said, your desire to respond to the story and interact with your customers in a forum like ours is commendable, and I thank you for your response.


Joanna Cabot | Senior Writer, TeleRead.com

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"I’m a journalist, a teacher and an e-book fiend. I work as a French teacher at a K-3 private school. I use drama, music, puppets, props and all manner of tech in my job, and I love it. I enjoy moving between all the classes and having a relationship with each child in the school. Kids are hilarious, and I enjoy watching them grow and learn. My current device of choice for reading is my Amazon Kindle Touch, but I have owned or used devices by Sony, Kobo, Aluratek and others. I also read on my tablet devices using the Kindle app, and I enjoy synching between them, so that I’m always up to date no matter where I am or what I have with me."


  1. Lots of companies use auto-renewal, it can’t be a legal issue. Yahoo, Ancestry.com, Consumer Reports, all are auto-renewal.

    One way to avoid it is to remove your credit card info from their site. I’ve had auto-renewals not renew because my card is expired. They go through if I choose to update my info.

  2. It’s a grey area here. When they had the whole controversy over ‘negative option billing’ with the cable companies, the ruling was that they can’t auto-bill you for a service you didn’t request. So they could not add something new and auto-bill you for it ‘unless you call to cancel.’ But if it’s a service you request, they can. Where they might have a customer service issue here is if someone argues they didn’t know—on a technical level, it’s their own fault for not reading the fine print, but it’s also a little scuzzy on Zinio’s part not to offer you the option to not choose the auto-renewal in the first place. It’s fine that they have this option for people who really do find it more ‘convenient’ but what they’ve done is take away the choice and put the onus on you to remember to notify them and cancel before the term is up if you don’t want the auto-renewal. That may be acceptable to some people, but it isn’t to me, and they will lose my business over this decision.

  3. Thanks for reporting this. The issue for me is that Zinio did not contact me with their change in policy. It would have been nice to have found out from them not through a third party.

    Why did they do this, it feels like they are pulling the wool over my eyes, so now I can never trust them again. Not a good way to earn loyalty with customers

  4. I just got a new subscription from Zinio and I was offered a choice to auto-renew or not. Just like any other service. None of my existing subscriptions were affected and I was able to change the one I had missed.

    Much ado about nothing.

  5. I use virtual account numbers from Citibank. They are single-use numbers tied to my account which expire the following month. I generate a new one for every online purchase. This way, they can’t bill my credit card and my actual credit card number remains secure.

  6. Hi Bob,

    The default was not changed. Please email me your login for zinio and I will shoot you over confirmation and directions as needed. Its in the “account settings” section on zinio.com. You can’t see it on the iPad or Android sections. It’s called continuous service and you can turn it on or off at anytime.

    My email is jmullen@zinio.com

    Anyone having questions is free to email me. Please don’t post here though- I wouldn’t want you to put personal info out there.


  7. Ms. Mullen—thank you for posting here with the information about the account settings options. This information was absent in both the email I was sent, and in your terms of service on the website and is helpful for customers to know. The fact remains for me, however, that at least in the case of *some* publications, I had an option before which has now been removed for me. And I fail to see how ‘but you can go to the website and fix it after’ excuses that. How can this change be justified as being for customer’s ‘convenience’ when it involves the customer having to go back to their computers after completing the transaction just so they can fix an option they should have had the opportunity to choose or decline at checkout?

    I appreciate your clarification that at least there *is* a way for it to be fixed, but I stand behind my story and wholeheartedly disagree with Zinio’s decision to implement this new policy.

  8. I went to my Zinio subscriptions and found one which was marked automatic renewal, and there was an option to change it, which I did. Also was investigating a magazine I may wish to subscribe to and there was a box for automatic renewal which you could uncheck. So, at the moment, I don’t see a problem and will continue with Zinio as I have enjoyed having my subscriptions from them on the iPad.

  9. My solution to stupid biling practices like this is to go to my local mass retailer, buy a pre-paid credit card with only slightly more money than I need for the subscription I’m buying, and then to use that to purchase the subscription. Then I use the rest of the money on the card for some other purchase so that the card is then effectively empty.

    Then, when they try to renew, they will be denied since there is no longer enough money on the card to fulfill the purchase and since this will be my payment method of record, they will be unable to renew my subscription without alerting me and requiring some action on my part.

    Problem solved.

  10. Really! Have those of you who are so indignant signed in to Zinio and checked to see how your subscriptions are set up? None of mine is set up to automatically renew and a couple of days ago I bought a new subscription and unchecked the auto renew box, so it won’t either. I’m not understanding why mine should be different from yours. Is it possible that this rumor got started by someone looking to get subscription business when people cancel their zinio subscriptions. I’m not cancelling mine.

  11. My apologies to both Dan and Joanna. I’m truly not trying to insult anyone, just trying to understand. May I ask a question? Have those in the US checked their Zinio accounts? Since Joanna is Canadian, perhaps it only applies there. All I can testify to is that it does not apply to my account in the US.

  12. Mary- you are free to check the terms of service in Zinio’s site, as I did before I posted—it’s there in plain English. Zinio has clarified that this change won’t apply to ALL subscriptions—perhaps the magazine you subscribed to was one of the ones which was not participating in this new program. But the fact remains that at least on some subscriptions, Zinio HAS changed their policy. It’s there right in their terms of service. So if you plan to do ANY transactions with them in the future, it behooves you as a customer to read the fine print and make sure you understand what you are getting. That’s why I posted the article.

  13. Hey Mary, no need to apologize! It’s all good. As for your question, though, I’m actually not sure–I’ve never had a Zinio account. Any U.S.-based Zinio subscribers out there who’d like to share their thoughts?

    And while I’m at it … can anyone share their opinion(s) of Zinio’s app for Android? I’m thinking of giving it a try.

  14. I see this thread of comments ending more then a year ago but I need to warn all users of zinio.com that this fraudulent practice still continues. I am a new user of zinio and when I subscribed to that service I was not informed when I placed the order for Economist, Road and Track, etc. that my initial order of say ~$20 will automatically be followed by ~$150 automatic renewal a few weeks after. What a scam! They have this information buried in their legalese they show you while subscribing and when you complain they point you to management feature of your account where you can un-check automatic renewal. This is totally unacceptable and this business practice of deceiving customers should be prosecuted. I avoided being charged that $150 only because my Master Card bank has zinio on their black list and denied the charges. Still it costed me a lot of time since the bank changed my credit card number and I had to change that with ~20 services I use. What a nuisance! I am in for any class action law suit that may come.

  15. Zinio fraudulently renewed my magazines as well. I specifically set my publication to not renew and they charged my card anyway. It’s been very difficult to resolve this and feels like a scam. I would never use zinio again.

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