Open letter to TONG Magazine – how I was ripped off

Dear TONG Magazine

On 14th July 2015, I started subscribing to TONG, which at that point was a hardcopy specialist wine magazine. I have the PayPal receipt in front of me now, for €€199.00 paid to Millefeuille BVBA . What exactly was I buying? In the description field on the receipt it reads “Subscribe to TONG (2 years/8 issues)”. So, just over nine months later, how many magazine issue should I have received? Immediately after subscribing I was sent the then-current issue, so by reckoning it should be four. What have I actually received? The hardcopy issue just mentioned, and one issue sent to me by email as a PDF. So my basic gripe is that I am clearly not being given what I paid for. I want a refund, but you insist on keeping my money.

Here is how things played out in more detail after my subscription and initial hardcopy issue…

2nd October 2015 I was informed that TONG was going to be published in PDF format only, and that by way of compensation I would receive ten issues rather than the eight I paid for. I thought “I am not totally happy with that, but will see how it goes”.

5th October 2015 I received an email with a new issue as PDF. I was even less happy when I realised how difficult it was to read online, and how unsuited it was to printing at home, but still didn’t think it was worth kicking up a fuss.

24th March 2016, I realised that as it was a quarterly magazine I should have received a second PDF issue by then. At this point I lost patience and just wanted to cancel my subscription and get a refund for the magazines I had not yet received, something which another high quality wine magazine would do even under normal circumstances. But the only email address I could get a response from was orders@tongmagazinedigital.com, where Filip Verheyden told me “TONG is published by a Belgian company, our South African company only sells the digital [back] issues and we have legally nothing to do with the other company”. Neither could he give me contact details for the Belgian company. I found this response unsatisfactory, as orders@tongmagazinedigital.com was the email address I had received the PDF issue from, and Filip’s email sig still read “Editor and Publisher” with a TONG logo. Also, all communication since 26th January had been, and would be, from that email address.

14th April 2016, I was sent an email announcing a collaboration with another publisher to create a journal that will bring “food and wine together in a new publication which will replace TONG as we know it”, and “[s]ubscribers to the printed TONG journal will receive their first issue in June 2016”. So, no more PDFs as proposed before, but another flavour of jam tomorrow. On repeating my request for a refund, Filip wrote that none will be forthcoming “since the publication does not stop. It will only be refreshed”.  That is not how it sounded to me in the previous announcement.

Sadly, PayPal will not help me as my payment was over 180 days ago, and charge-backs on credit and debit cards apparently often have a similar limit. I am sure that Belgium has solid consumer protection laws but I really don’t feel like taking legal action outside the UK for less than €200. So I am stuffed. My one consolation is to indulge myself by whinging publicly 🙂

If you are reading this, Filip, I would like to thank you at least for continuing to communicate politely with me throughout. I do understand that running a specialist magazine is not easy, but alienating new subscribers is not the answer. If you really believe in your new venture, let me make the decision whether to subscribe to it or not; don’t take that decision for me. I subscribed to a different magazine, and for a different time period.

Thank you for reading – if you have been.

Steve Slatcher

PS:

I see in a more recent email of 14th November 2016, Filip writes “TONG as a publication has been taken over by [another publisher]. Subscribers can best get into contact with […] TONG’s new publisher […] to have more information about the new, thrilling future of TONG.” Well, as Filip suggested, I did get in touch with the “new publisher”, and the information I got was far from thrilling. In short, they say that they have not taken over TONG, and as far as they know Filip still owns the entire business. TONG has nothing to do with them.

Based on past experience, I know which version I believe. Is looks like the exciting new future of TONG is in its past, and Filip Verheyden is still sitting on €170 or so of my money.