[Updated April 2005]
First, let me just say that to cancel your Rhapsody subscription, call 1 866 834 5509 (the message on that line announces you've reached the "Rhapsody Cancellation Team"). Per a comment below, 1 866 311 0566 also works; the number currently listed online is 1 866 563 6157. All three appear to work. The listed hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time from Monday through Friday and 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time on Saturday and Sunday.
Now to our story:
I subscribed to Listen.com's Rhapsody music service sometime early last year. I was done with my free ("illegal") music downloading, still wanted to listen to stuff on my computer, and for one reason or another wasn't into any of the other paid alternatives. So I signed up for ten bucks a month and streamed music to my heart's occasional content (the absence of Aretha Franklin's "Until You Come Back to Me" from the Rhapsody library was a near-fatal flaw). But late in the spring, the TechTV layoff separated me from my Windows laptop, and I bought a little iBook as its more-than-capable replacement. Alas, Rhapsody doesn't play on the Mac. Although I could still use the service from Windows machines installed at Infospigot World Headquarters, I decided to cancel the service. ...
One thing that had changed about Listen.com since I had subscribed to Rhapsody was that it had been bought out by RealNetworks. So dropping Rhapsody now meant running RealNetworks' cancellation gantlet. See, you can sign up for Real's services online, and you can upgrade your service (and pay Real more money), but to get rid of it, you need to explore their sites for well-concealed links, then call a cancellation number, then talk to a human being and get interrogated about your reasons for canceling.
More than once, I got to the point where I found the cancellation number (1 866 834 5509), only to find that I was calling outside the hours the line was open, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern time Monday through Friday; 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern on the weekends. Canceling Rhapsody wasn't a top item on my to-do list, and month after month I continued to dribble out the $10 fee. Finally, last week I wrote down the cancellation number and put it next to my phone so I'd remember to call. Then I lost the slip of paper and forgot all about it. Then, last night, I was telling Kate about iTunes, which I use with my iBook, and she asked whether the Rhapsody account was still active. "Yes," I said. "Let's cancel it now," she sweetly suggested.
So I looked up the cancellation number again. If you're lucky or a really good guesser, you need to click through at least two pages to get to the page ("Find Answers") where a cancel link is displayed. (No, cancellation is not covered in Rhapsody's FAQ, though I'll bet anything it's one of the most frequently asked questions about the service). When you hit that link, you're confronted with a form titled "Rhapsody Account Telephone Cancellation." It says:
"Please note, this form leads to the Rhapsody account-cancellation phone number. The information on this form routes your phone call to the right department. Help us improve RealRhapsody! Please let us know why you are cancelling."
At the bottom of the page is a button marked "View Phone Number." If you hit that before you've said why you're quitting, a window pops up saying "please tell us why you're cancelling." I'd love to see the reasons people give. I tried, "Due to recent surgery, I am now deaf and can no longer hear music." (Also: "My dog died." And: "iTunes rocks and Rhapsody walks.") After you jump through that hoop, you get to see the phone number. But the fun's not over yet.
When you call, you first get a message saying, "You've arrived at the Rhapsody cancellation team. If you think you're at the wrong place, press 9 ...." Then you go into a queue. This morning, the call was picked up after a couple of minutes by a young woman.
She asked why I was calling. "To cancel," I replied.
"I could always go ahead and do that for you," she said, "but can I ask why you want to cancel the service?" Because I want to cancel, I said. She asked whether I had gotten to use all of Rhapsody's great features. "Please, I just want to cancel," I said. "All right, I can do that. But can I ask why?" "I just want to cancel. I know you're reading the script you've been given and are just trying to do your job, and this call has probably been sourced out to a call center someplace, but all I want to do is cancel my account. Could you please do that?"
At this point, she agreed, and I got no more questions about my motivation. For what it's worth, she was working all night in a call center in southern India (I asked).
If you query Rhapsody's "Find Answers" database, you find that Real makes it tough to cancel for the customer's own good. That's because the company -- which makes you leap the same hurdles when you try to drop other premium services, like RealOne Superpass -- doesn't think you know what you're doing when you decide to cancel. Not letting you cancel online is actually a perk, Real says, because the "toll-free [cancellation] phone call allows us to offer specialized technical support and customer services to our subscribers." Translation: We need to talk! The customer can't always be right! Please, please reconsider this madness!
People have been complaining about this for years, and apparently there's no way to shame Real out of this aggressively user-unfriendly way of doing business. Their motive is clear: Making exits hard keeps a certain amount of accidental revenue flowing; in my case, I've paid them $60 or more that I wouldn't have if the cancellation process was simple (in effect, online). But that short-term gain aside, you've really got to wonder what the tradeoff is in terms of lost goodwill.