Consumer Ombudsman: Media houses need to rectify the issues in magazine marketing

Consumer reports and the Consumer Ombudsman’s own observations have revealed that the marketing of magazines is rife with problems. The Consumer Ombudsman is currently discussing these issues with five magazine publishers. Different companies have different shortcomings, but the most common issues concern informing the consumer of the duration, price and cancellation rights and terms, both in telemarketing and on websites. Some standing subscriptions also have unreasonable terms of notice, and cancelling the subscriptions has been made unnecessarily complicated.

In its requests for commitment sent to A-lehdet Oy, Aller Media Oy, Bonnier Publications Oy, Otavamedia Oy and Sanoma Media Finland Oy in October 2018, the Consumer Ombudsman informed the publishers of illegal practices that it expects them to rectify.

”The marketing and distance selling of magazines currently involves major issues in basic areas of the Consumer Protection Act, and it’s time to put these in order”, says Consumer Ombudsman Katri Väänänen.

Subscription duration, price and other prior information must be stated clearly

All of the prior information required by the Consumer Protection Act is often not provided to the consumer in the marketing and distance selling of magazines, and even misleading or false information has been given to consumers.

”When a standing subscription, which is an ongoing contract, is marketed with an introductory offer or trial period, the consumer must be clearly informed of the ongoing nature and price of the subscription. Information on the exercise of cancellation rights and cancellation deadlines and practices must also be given to consumers in a clear and intelligible form before the contract is signed”, Consumer Ombudsman Katri Väänänen says.

Some magazine publishers have even sent magazines to consumers without their explicit consent and charged them for the magazines.

There have also been deficiencies in the information contained in order confirmations, nor have consumers always been informed of the alternative dispute resolution body, which should be indicated in the contract terms and on the company’s website.

Unreasonable terms of notice for cancellation

Some magazine publishers have tied the period of notice for cancelling the subscription to the length of the subscription period. In other words, if the subscription period is 4 months, the term of notice would also be 4 months. The Consumer Ombudsman stresses that the length of the invoicing period and term of notice for cancelling and ongoing contract are two legally separate issues that should not be mixed up.

The notice period of an ongoing contract may not be unreasonably long. According to the Consumer Ombudsman’s established dispute resolution practice, the longest reasonable period of notice is 30 days or one calendar month, calculated from the last day of the month in which notice was given. As a whole, the Consumer Ombudsman considers periods of notice that are tied to the length of the invoicing period and confusing in other aspects to be unreasonable for the consumers.

”We also reminded the magazine publishers that consumers must be able to effectively exercise their rights of termination and cancellation. For example, limiting the termination of contracts to a single customer service channel even though the company offers other channels for other matters complicates the exercise of the consumer’s rights unnecessarily and is and inappropriate customer relations practice”, says Consumer Ombudsman Katri Väänänen in conclusion.

The Consumer Ombudsman requires the magazine publishers to commit to changing their illegal practices and is seeking a resolution through negotiations in 2018.