Politics, Content Quality, And Fits of Pique: Why People Cancel Media Subscriptions

We live in a subscription economy that’s expanded into every corner of our lives. Where once we subscribed to media brands — newspapers and magazines — now it’s Netflix, video games, radio, music, software, YouTube, digital storage, groceries and hundreds of products available through Amazon.

Subscriptions are convenient and ubiquitous. So it’s worth asking: What makes people cancel subscriptions, particularly when it comes to the media?

That’s precisely what the Neiman Lab did recently, and it came up with all kinds of interesting data, some of it intuitive, given its relevance in our own lives, and some surprising.



The lab, a unit of Harvard University’s Neiman Foundation for Journalism, asked its readers the reasons for recent cancellations of media-related products. It got more than 500 responses.

The No. 1 reason was money. (Keep in mind: Anyone who’s even been in sales knows when customers cite money as a reason for rejection, it’s usually not about money — it’s about perceived value.)

Nearly one-third of the respondents — 31% — cited money as the primary reason they cancelled a subscription. Still, that was the given reason — some people canceled when promotional rates expired. Others were irritated that subscriptions auto-renewed or that news organizations weren’t transparent about price.

Frequently, it was about COVID-related financial hardship. Some respondents had to cut back some of their multiple subscriptions, and others cancelled when promotional offers expired.

Next up was ideology or politics, with 30% of the respondents citing this motivator. This is somewhat surprising because people generally understand the politics of a media brand before they subscribe. But Neiman found that one-off perceived infractions often triggered the cancellation.

After those two came a variety of other reasons. Content quality was cited by 13% of respondents giving; the content was viewed as superficial or click-baity. Then came lack of time, also cited by 13% of the respondents.

Last up was customer service, with 12% of respondents saying they canceled primarily due to some kind of customer service or UX issues. Print newspapers getting delivered too late (often, these people switched to online-only), or changing the address or name on a subscription was so annoying the subscriber decided it wasn’t worth it.


The full report delves into the brands that are most-often cancelled, with rich anecdotes from respondents. Read it here.

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