How the “Harvard Business Review” Punishes Your Loyalty


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I have been a subscriber to the Harvard Business Review for over 10 years. I always look forward to the thud of the latest edition of the HBR on my doormat and to the management wisdom it contains. But I am wondering whether it is time for a change.


The problem is that my subscription has run out. I paid almost USD 450 two years ago for what I thought was a 3-year subscription. Two years later my subscription has apparently run out, even though at today’s weak dollar prices, two years only costs Euro 235 (about USD 345). I have this uncomfortable feeling that HBR now does everything in one or two year increments and has simply lost the fact that I paid for a 3-year subscription.


I still want to receive HBR delivered to my door so I investigated my subscription options. I can get a one year subscription in three ways:

  1. As a renewed subscription at Euro 129 (about 190 USD)
  2. As a renewed subscription by response paid card in the last issue at Euro 111 (about 163 USD)
  3. As a new subscription at Euro 99 (about 145 USD)

Not only do I feel cheated by HBR for not honouring my 3-year subscription, but I feel doubly cheated that I am being hugely over-charged for being a loyal customer. And this from a management magazine that regularly writes about customer management issues just like these!


I went through their complicated web-site, entered information that they already knew and send off a quick email asking for an explanation to HBR today. They promise to get back to me in 2-3 working days! That’s quite a long time in today’s internet-powered world.

If HBR’s response is not sufficiently emollient they will find that I become another vocal ex-customer. They might even find themselves on other blogs, in the mainstream press, or on YouTube! That’s the power that angry ex-customers with a strong case of being treated unfairly have today.

Aren’t I worried about loosing my access to HBR? Not a bit of it. I have so many friends who also have an HBR subscription that I can gain access for free anytime that I want. I have kept my side of the bargain with HBR so far. Now it’s their turn. I will keep you posted.

What do you think? Is HBR punishing its most loyal customers? Or does the left-hand side of HBR not know what the right-hand side is doing?

Post a comment or send an email to graham(dot)hill(at)web(dot)de to get the conversation going.

Graham Hill
Independent CRM Consultant
Interim CRM Manager

Graham Hill (Dr G)
Business Troubleshooter | Questioning | Thoughtful | Industrious | Opinions my own | Connect with me on LinkedIn


  1. Graham,

    Welcome back from the wilds of Canada. I think the right hand/left hand metaphor fits HBR but also fits many other companies. Once a silo interprets their role narrowly around what they do, they lose sight of the bigger picture. This is particularly shocking in the case of HBR since they publish so much about customer-centricity.

    In their case, the fix might involve requiring subscription management to subscribe to the publication and look for implications in every issue. Wouldn’t that be refreshing it the publication actually reported the action they took because of the insights they promoted.


    John I. Todor, Ph.D.
    Author of Get with it! The Hands-on Guide to Using Web 2.0 in Your Business.

  2. Graham,

    Glad you put into words what I’ve also experienced! AMEX is famous for sending letters inviting me to become a Gold Card Member, which I have been since ’87. I thought an organization as focused on quality and service as they claim to be would be more aware of what they’re doing and the effect it’s having.

    Doug Jones
    Author of Market Dominance through Business Development

  3. Graham, To quote sommeone famous, “I feel your pain!” Mine was not with HBR but with Nation Magazine who outsource their subscription activies.

    Since HBR often uses case studies, could both their problem be caused that whomever is handling subscription never stood behind a showcase and saw face-to-face the wrath of a disappointed about-to-be-ex-loyal customer?

    Their problem is not what they did to you or me, it is that you and I and everyone who reads your tale of woe will tell others who will tell others who will tell others, etc. and how that affects the level of esteem both HBR and Nation Magazine want others to see them.

    The end result is fewer subscriptions. New subscriptions become more expensive to get due to the negative conversations and the least expensive to get, reorders, are fewer in number. Both of which, HBR would/should tell their readers, has a negative affect on the bottom line.

    Your tale would be a great case study for HBR to use in their next issue. (HBR, are you a subscriber to Customer Think?)


    Alan J. Zell, Ambassador of Selling, Attitudes for Selling offer consulting, workshops, speaking on all business topics that affect sales. He can be reached at [email protected] For more information, please visit his website, Mr. Zell is the recipient of the the Murray Award for Marketing Excellence, He is a member of PNW Sales & Marketing Group,
    Institute of Management Consultants, International Speakers Network, and

  4. I am also angry that magazines offer better rates to new subscribers and then publicize the fact to loyal customers with the inserts in the magazine. I have subscribed to PC Gamer for 15 years. The rate offered to new subscribers on the inserts in the magazine is $20 rather than the best rate of $24 that I would get from my renewal letter. The magazine also offers several bonuses to new subscribers such as a CD with extra features and a booklet with a summary of past reviews. This second bonus is particularly important to me because I collect PC games and would take the booklet along on my shopping trips.

    On the often stated principle that it is easier to keep old customers than to get new ones, I don’t understand this strategy that so obviously devalues current subscribers. For one renewal, I called customer service and got my subscription renewed at the lower rate.

    Bob Holley

  5. Graham,

    I loved the fact that you voiced your opinions on this article and I really do hope that customers around the world will start using their power to get back to these schizophrenic companies that invariably overpromise and under deliver.

    Your case with HBR is not unique as I have experienced problems with BA (waiting for 9 months!! for a ticket refund after they had a strike some years ago); Orange (three times my voicemail was not informing me that I had messages on my voicemail box and I lost some projects because of it); Lifestyle group – the insurance company for Lloyds TSB premier customers (it’s taking them over one and a half months to get my mobile phone fixed and back to me after they had approved the claim).

    At least you should be happy that they actually delivered your magazines every month during the 2 year period and didn’t do as many companies do, get your money and run as fast as they can (or even worse, hide under the maze of call centre systems and untrained and unmotivated employees that make sure they let you know that they couldn’t care less).

    Best of luck!


  6. Graham,

    You’ve stirred up a hornets’ nest here, I see. When I was a member of a university workgroup that was reviewing magazine and journal subsriptions for a business school library, we found that one publisher in particular (no names, guys, sorry) gained new subscribers at very low prices, then gradually hiked proces over the following 5 years, taking advantage of automated subscription renewals and poor oversight by universities. A journal that looked like excellent value in year 1 (12 issues at 300 British pounds) looked much less attractive in year 5 (12 issues at 2800 British pounds).

    When we decided to delist several journals because of cost, several of my colleagues kicked up a fuss. They lost the fight though.

    What can I say? You’ve got to monitor these matters very carefully. Is HBR exploiting poor subscriber renewal oversight, like my example above? I don’t know, but there are many institutional subscribers to HBR, and they may be as lax as my erstwhile employer.

    Francis Buttle

  7. This happens with mortgage loans too. Be a loyal customer for ten years, pay your mortgage without fail, create no customer service demands. How are you rewarded? By paying a higher rate of interest than newly acquired customers. It cheeses me off.

    Francis Buttle

  8. I agree with all I have read here. Loyal customers get run around the longer they stay with one company, especially if they do not monitor their automatic subscriptions, such as mortgages, insurance and such…

    In terms of expensive journals? I “cheat” the system by downloading pdf files of the articles I want from my public library’s internet portal. It’s Free.

  9. Say we missed the point…it is part of the business model. Once they have you as a customer they believe that their product or service to you is so indispensible that you cannot do without it. They have you hooked; now it is time to hook someone else and make them an addict. This is also the business model used by a drug dealer to hook potential drug users; give it away, make them addicted, then make them pay later out the nose (sic)…

    Now, be honest, is there another competitor with a similar product or service or utility? If not, then you are doomed and they know it.


  10. HBR is supposed to teach us how to do business better and they are so pathetic in the service. I tried to renew last year and they could not locate me! I am trying this year they say I need a user id and they might take 2 days to give me one.

    In India they have delegated the subscription work to India Today. Their service is something I do not even want to write about. And there is no way I can contact the global headquarters. Anyone knows their – global HBR’s email id?

    The quality of articles is also going down in more ways than one. Many times they are telling us something that is already known for decades. Like the pasteur on the other side – what Ansoff wrote in 50s. At times they try to tell us complete waste of time. Can you believe three simple laws of doing business gets printed in HBR?

    Raj Aphale – [email protected],
    Strategy and Lean Consultant

  11. It has been almost six years since I tired of being short-changed by the Harvard Business Review. I refuse to be ‘nickel and dimed’ by a magazine. I am still not a subscriber and I can still buy the magazines from newsagents like WH Smith at the many airports I visit. Last time I checked the subscription process was still broken. I doubt that I will ever become a subscriber at Harvard Business Review in the future.

    The short-change the subscriber syndrome is growing too. It has now afflicted the Sloan Management Review too, which I have also declined to resubscribe too. Again, the WH Smith option works for me fine. And again I doubt that I will ever become a subscriber at Sloan Management Review in the future.

    It is ironic that business magazines like the Harvard Business Review and Sloan Management Review still operate subscription models that have more in common with Lester Wunderman’s 1950’s catalogue direct marketing than Amazon’s current ‘One Click’ platform.

    Perhaps they should look to the strategy consultants like McKinsey, Booz & Co and BCG whose excellent magazines have equally good articles (in fact I would argue that they are of better quality than those in the Harvard Business Review), are available through an online portal that is a pleasure to use and are FREE!. I have seen the future and it is the McKinsey Quarterly, not the Harvard Business Review.

    Business school magazine, heed thyself.

    Graham Hill

  12. HBR publishes articles on Customer Service but their service is in a mess. I have re-subscribed recently after a gap of about 2 years. The app is not able to activate my subscription on IPad. I wrote to them many times but no response for last 8 days. I only get auto-generated email every time I write to them.

    Once a person replied that he wants screenshot of the problem. I sent it. Silence then.


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