The Economist Mistakenly Gave Away Free Digital Subscriptions

The Economist will next week revoke premium digital subscriptions from some users after realising it had been accidentally servicing them for free.

“Unfortunately, we have been providing you with full digital access in error,” the journal emailed users to say (see below). Some of those users had been getting a free ride for up to five years, according to tweets. The scale of the error is not clear.

There was an error in our database which resulted in a number of people being assigned full subscription rights by mistake,” Economist digital editions publisher Oscar Grut tells paidContent.

The Economist‘s digital-only, multi-device subscription package costs £119.99/$110 per year, even though combined print and digital subscription is cheaper in the UK at least, at £102/$126.99.

The Economist would not be the first media company to get its customer database in order. In 2006, a Virgin Media (NSDQ: VMED) data cleanse resulted in it removing around 60,000 phantom customers from its books.

Having done its cleansing, The Economist can now move forward with a revised iPad app that both takes subscriptions through iTunes and grants access to existing, legitimate subscribers.

Grut says features inside its iOS apps that were made buggy by iOS 5 have already been fixed.

We are asking readers to move to a new app. The main difference (as you spotted) is that it provides for iTunes subscriptions,” Grut says. “We will probably take the old one off the App Store, eventually. With the latest update, we have removed the subscription capability from this old one.

“I’m not sure forcing an upgrade to the new app would be a very nice way to do it, though we are strongly encouraging it! The thought of a web version (ie, HTML5) is intriguing, but we’re going to keep producing and supporting apps.” visits grew by a third annually to 140 million in 2010/11. Payment is required for web articles older than 90 days and for the digital editions of the magazine.






The Economist’s email to freeloaders

“Dear Reader,

“We hope you have taken the opportunity to enjoy full access to The Economist online, The Economist on Android, iPhone and iPad and The Economist in audio, a range of benefits that are only available to subscribers.

Unfortunately, we have been providing you with full digital access in error. Our system will be updated to correct this error on October 25th 2011. After that time, your full digital access will only continue if you choose to subscribe.

“We would therefore like to take this opportunity to detail the subscription options that are available:

“1. Digital subscription which includes full access to:
?¢ The Economist online
?¢ The Economist on Android, iPhone and iPad
?¢ The Economist in audio
Click here for more details.

“2. Print subscription which includes access to:
?¢ All of the digital benefits listed above
?¢ The print edition of The Economist, delivered direct to your door every week
Click here for more details.

“You will continue to enjoy full digital access until October 25th 2011. After that your access will be restricted to a limited number of articles each week – unless you subscribe.

“We hope that you have enjoyed full digital access to The Economist. It would be our pleasure to welcome you as a subscriber in the near future.

“Yours sincerely,

“The Economist online”