Thursday, June 21, 2012

Customer Relationship Management, Murdoch style

Print publications, as everyone knows, have been hurting for some time, and many resort to revenue boosters as desperate as those of broke cities looking to jack up parking violation revenue.  For years, I've held off from tempting 1-year offers from the Economist because they won't let you pay by check -- they want your credit card for automatic renewal. I can accept a reasonable bump-up when a new subscriber offer expires, but I don't want it to be unilateral.

For arrogance and customer manipulation, though, nothing beats The Wall Street Journal in the Murdoch era. My online subscription just expired, and when I tried to click through to an article I was bumped to a subscribe page offering a decent combined print-and-online rate ($5.99/week). It's a great time for me to renew, I figured, because my credit card expires in August. I filled out my credit card info, but never pulled the trigger. The terms are unacceptable on several counts.

First, the fee is billed weekly, so they'd be coming after me for my new credit card info right away. Worse is what they do with it.  This offer was dangled before me, an existing online customer, as an "introductory" one -- which makes partial sense, as I have not subscribed to the print edition for some time.  At page bottom, however, is this caveat:
*Introductory price is only available to new customers who have not been subscribers within the last 180 days. If you respond to this offer and are already a subscriber, we reserve the right to reject your order or prorate your upcoming subscription term to reflect current subscriber pricing. Offer is only available in the contiguous U.S. Sales tax may apply.
Great -- so they can offer me a price and raise it unilaterally, whenever they choose, in their weekly billing (there's a statement that you'll be billed the quoted rate for 52 weeks, but it's rescindable on several fronts, per the we-do-what-we-want declarations in the subscriber agreement (their emphasis):
3.      Fees and Payments. You agree to pay the subscription fees and any other charges incurred in connection with your user name and password for a Service (including any applicable taxes) at the rates in effect when the charges were incurred. If your subscription includes access to areas containing premium content or services, your access to such areas may be subject to additional fees, terms and conditions, which will be separately disclosed in such areas. We will bill all charges automatically to your credit card. Subscription fees will be billed at the beginning of your subscription or any renewal. Unless we state in writing otherwise, all fees and charges are nonrefundable. We may change the fees and charges then in effect, or add new fees or charges, by giving you notice in advance. If you want to use a different credit card or there is a change in credit card validity or expiration date, or if you believe someone has accessed a Service using your user name and password without your authorization, you must follow the procedures outlined in the Help section of the Service. You are responsible for any fees or charges incurred to access a Service through an Internet access provider or other third-party service.

4.      Renewal. Your subscription will renew automatically, unless we terminate it or you notify us by telephone, mail, or e-mail (receipt of which must be confirmed by email reply from us) of your decision to terminate your subscription. For annual subscriptions, we will notify you of the pending renewal of your subscription at least 30 days prior to the date your subscription renews, except as otherwise required by law. You must cancel your subscription before it renews in order to avoid billing of subscription fees for the renewal term to your credit card.
 Buyer beware, forever.

Frankly, I need the Journal, for professional reasons.  But I am not subscribing on these terms.  I called, and you can't get the online rate over the phone.

My working rule is that I won't give any publication my credit card number -- unless the credit card expires prior to renewal time -- because they all renew you automatically at their preferred rates.  But increasingly, paying by check is being foreclosed as an option.

Suggestions, anyone?

Update 6/22: I sent the following note to the subscription department. I am not optimistic.
My online subscription expired this week. I want to take your $5.99/week print-and-online deal -- or rather, its price -- but I am not willing to authorize Dow Jones to bill my credit card on a weekly basis, considering that the co. will not guarantee the rate and will not even guarantee that the rate is not offered in error (since I am a 'new subscriber' in one sense only).  I will pre-pay a year at this price if that can be arranged.
 I appreciate an anon comment re frequent flyer miles: I am going to check that out. But I do need online access.  P.S. I appreciate all the comments/suggestions. And yes, I've had billing issues with the FT, too.


  1. Well, on Amazon you can Pay Directly from Your Checking Account:

    but they only have the print sub. for a year, not the print/online bundle (still, it's $249, not bad)

    check the full Terms though. They do say they share all your order info with the publication and audit service. But I don't think that would mean they would be able to debit your account more than once, like they do with your credit card.

    You can also purchase it on Amazon with an amazon gift card you buy with cash at the grocery store or wherever, or actually any Visa, MasterCard, or American Express pre-paid credit or gift cards.

    good luck!

  2. Replies
    1. FT is just as bad. I cancelled my subscription, because they weren't willing to bill me once a year and let me pay by check.

  3. Don't some of the cards have the ability to generate one-time-use numbers?

  4. If you can stand the fees, a prepaid credit card, purchased for as close to the subscription price as you can arrange.

  5. I haven't paid for the Journal for over five years now. I subscribe with frequent flier miles I'm never going to use. They basically give subscriptions away this way to increase their circulation numbers. A year-long subscription (paper only, no on line) seems to run around 2000-3000 miles, and I get three or four of these offers in the mail from various airlines every year. If I'm near the end of my subscription period, I take the offer for another year, and the first morning that I get two copies of the Journal delivered, I call customer service. They combine the subscriptions--effectively adding another year to my already existing subscription.