Peter Coleman: Neil Sedaka was right - breaking up is hard to do

Peter Coleman: Neil Sedaka was right - breaking up is hard to do

So you want to cancel your subscription? No problem... as long as you can negotiate the tortuous route to a "resolution".

With more than the usual amount of overseas travel planned for this year, I've been reviewing supplies that attract regular debits from my credit card. Or in the case of WhitePages listings, are added to my phone bill. It isn't easy.

Today's exercise was to cancel the print-and-digital subscription to News Corp Australia's (Brisbane) Courier-Mail - which is delivered, if you can use that expression, to the newsagent in the village for us to collect - and modify The Australian from print-and-digital to digital only.

The call to a 1800 number takes you to someone in the "cancellation team", whose name I later learn to be Garth, who tells me we "agreed" to a one year contract on August 20 last year; or maybe April 20, he says when challenged on the text message he says was sent me confirming our "agreement".

When I find it among a stack of spam messages on my wife's phone (even though I am apparently their customer), it reads, 'To continue with your subscription for The Courier Mail+ Digital Membership & 7 Day delivery 12 Month Plan please enter the following code: (four figure number deleted)', with no record that we replied.

Except that neither my wife nor I have any recollection of doing so; we've been talking about cancelling the metro tabloid, which I have bought for professional reasons - mostly to keep an eye on products and production - so it's hardly likely we would sign up for a contract. I can't pretend I enjoy the Brisbane paper - which seems to have a very loose definition of the phrase "public interest" - and 'Garth' tells me everybody says that. I'm not sure he understands - and ask that they support their claim that we must have responded by text or phone. Which results in my call being redirected to Sherry, who says she is a customer service manager with News Limited; "we don't have to provide our surnames," she tells me.

Failing that, I get a reference number, the name of her manager (Srna, which I got her to spell out) and an assurance that, "we'll try to get a resolution" without resorting to the "legal process" of sending me a recording of a phone call she says would have occurred. Perhaps we had an email, and I should look in our junk mail, she suggests.

The "resolution", it turns out, is that she will cancel our subscription but, since we have "broken our contract", we will be deprived of the opportunity of taking out a subscription again. No comment.

The Australian, it turns out is not on a contract, but the change to digital-only cannot be made until nearer the date of the intended change. Interestingly, a largely one-way dialogue (between them and my credit card account) has recently seen the four-week prepaid charge for the Oz jump from $48 to $60 without my specific agreement... but that's another matter. If they could make it better at remembering my log-in - and not asking for my email everything I try to remember it - that would be good.

Oh, what about White Pages, you ask? A few weeks back we sought to cancel the three brand-name listings which appeared in the printed book for our publications. It took what seemed an endless number of calls to my mobile, usually when I was driving, in a lightning storm or both, and after asking a couple of times, I now have an email dated January 16 telling me to "rest assured" that they have been cancelled. I live in hope that one day, the $30.349 debit will stop appearing on my Telstra bill, but that hadn't happened by the bill received yesterday.

Over years of attending newsmedia industry conferences around the world, I'd heard about publishers who kept revenue rolling by making it as hard as possible to cancel. It's a good thing becoming a subscriber isn't so hard, or publishers would be in more trouble than they are.

Peter Coleman