guest - flak

newspaper subscription experiment

Back in November I subscribed to a few newspapers, the theory being that paying for a newspaper was the only way to save journalism, and thus democracy. Instead of choosing one, I just subscribed to them all, figuring I could sort it all out later. Here we are, a few months later, with the introductory rates expired, and it’s time to evaluate which of our contestants can advance to the next round. Our entrants are the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal.

First, I’ll note that I have a pretty much unlimited media budget. If I can afford to spend a hundred dollars per month poisoning myself with tequila, I can spend that much on information. So it’s entirely possible for there to be three winners; this isn’t necessarily a contest of elimination.

Second, I’ll add that I understand introductory teaser rates. Don’t really like them, but I’m ok with the idea that there’s going to be a rate hike after a month or two. That said, while I’m not price sensitive, I am value sensitive. If there’s an annual subscription rate that’s half price, I’m going to pay the annual rate or I’m not going to pay anything. All three papes offer annual terms, which I know because they were offered to me when I initially subscribed. I picked the monthly option with the understanding that I could upgrade to annual afterwards.

Also, nothing here about the actual content. This is simply about the mechanics of billing.

Which brings us to today. All of the intro rates have expired, and I want to switch to annual billing. And... this is a dismal failure. Zero newspapers allow you to change subscription term online. It’s 2017 and newspapers haven’t figured out web forms with radio buttons. This would have been a pretty easy way for a newspaper to distinguish itself.

Results of round one: zero winners.

We now move on to round two, in which newspapers simply try not to lose.

First up is the Times. The subscription FAQ says I can change my subscription by calling a number. I do so. After a relatively arduous phone call that lasted ten minutes because I was forced to repeatedly explain my desire to obtain an annual subscription, I’m told that’s not possible. I’m a monthly subscriber, I will always be a monthly subscriber. Tentative fail, pending results of other contestants.

Next up is the Journal. Send them a little message using a web form. They reply promptly that they too require I call and speak to a human. At least this phone call goes smoothly. Very quickly have my subscription converted to annual, but also get a refund on the previous month, so effectively 13 months term. Nice. You can tell the Journal’s audience works in finance, because I had to say “confirm” about 10 times. Confirm the nature of the change, confirm permission to make the change, confirm that I heard the change had been made. But nevertheless pleasant. Although it turns out the annual rate is also an intro rate and will maybe double in a year?

Finally, the Post. Send them a message as well. They respond that I need to reply once more to confirm the change, and then I’m annualized. Done. That was easy.

Since two newspapers manged to avoid failure, time to cancel the Times. This also cannot be done by simply clicking a button. You have to sit through an online chat session which takes longer than it should. Apparently you’re not allowed to cancel your subscription until you answer the question, how is your day going? Only once you say fine is the chat allowed to proceed. And then comes the fun part. “Oh, it looks like before I finish this up an even better offer came up. In order to thank you for your loyalty, I can make that promotion 50% off for 52 weeks.” Wow, what a coinkydink this offer came up just now. Nope, too late. I don’t mind upfront teaser rates, but I abhor loyalty inducement offers.

Experiment results: I have an annual Post subscription. I have an annual Journal subscription, although it may require some credit card rejiggering in one year’s time. I have cancelled my Times subscription.

Posted 2017-02-14 16:24:23 by tedu Updated: 2017-02-14 16:24:23
Tagged: business