Wednesday, January 18, 2017

NEVER Subcribe to the New York Times!

Any company that uses "negative option" to snare customers is a company to be avoided.

The New York Times is crowing that their subscription rates are up as a result of the Trump election victory.  I think another factor is at stake here - they basically gave away subscriptions for very little (about $18 a month for Friday to Sunday delivery).   Mark needs newspaper for the pottery studio, so we thought, "why not?"

Negative option is why not.   Negative option is not necessarily bad in and of itself, but how it is played out makes all the difference in the world.   When AOL was failing, they used trickery to prevent people from cancelling their accounts.  People would call up to cancel and the operator would send them to a "cancellation specialist" to cancel the account.  After haranguing them on the phone to keep the account, they would finally reluctantly agree to cancel the account.   Or so they said.

The next month, the monthly service charge would appear on their account and when called, the agent would say there was no record of cancellation!   People would wait hours on hold, call over and over again, and even write certified letters.   The only solution was to cancel their credit card.

Negative option is a "from hell's heart I stab at thee!" kind of deal - kicking your customers in the ass on the way out the door.   Most companies who do this figure they've lost that customer for life, so why not utterly fuck them?   And to some extent, they have a point.

Problem is, the Internet.   If you hope to attract new customers, it doesn't help if your reputation gets around that you screw the old ones.  And that reputation can get around quickly, on the Internet.

Before taking on any negative option kind of deal, scout out in advance, if you can, how you can cancel said deal.   If they make it difficult to cancel, then odds are, you are better off just walking away from the "bargain" as you will end up stressing yourself and going through a lot of hassle.

The New York Times, like so many papers, is trying to re-invent itself as an online publication.  So if you subscribe to the paper, you can also read it online.   The problem is, the articles that appear in the weekend papers may appear online almost a week in advance.  So when the Sunday Paper arrives, we end up not reading it, as we've already read it.   It goes directly to the pot shop to help dry a clay birdhouse.

After the promotional period ended, I decided to cancel the subscription, as I was not going to pay the "regular" price of over $50 a month for newspapers which were already stacking up around the house - papers that I already read on my phone or computer.

So I go online to cancel.   They are very high-tech, and have a website where you can log in, check your subscription, and so forth.   You can do everything you want to online - suspend service for a holiday, change your subscription level, change your credit card and billing address.

Everything, that is, except cancel your subscription.   You see where this is going?  Not well, let me tell you.

So you call the 1-800 number and wait on musical hold.  Eventually someone answers.  You tell them your life story.  They can't help you, but have to forward you to an "account specialist" in another department.   The "account specialist" might pick up on the first ring - or you may be on musical hold a long, long time.

This is a lot of hassle for something that should be done with the click of a mouse.   So, you talk to the account specialist, who tries to get you to stay a subscriber.   Finally, they agree to close your account and credit your credit card for any surplus.   You ask for a confirmation - they promise you an e-mail.

Nothing happens.  No credit, no e-mail, and the papers are still piling up.   So you send them an e-mail.   Maybe two e-mails.   No response.

So you call again.  Again on hold, again transferred, again on hold, and finally after 20 minutes, you hang up. 

Call again.  The person answering says they can't help you, but when pressed, they admit they can check to see if the account has been cancelled.   They claim it is.  We'll see.

I ask them for a physical address to mail a certified letter to cancel my subscription, but they refuse to provide one.   How can you cancel, then?

What annoys me is that the New York Times is insulting our intelligence here.   They are playing negative option games, hoping we will just not bother to cancel because it is a "hassle".   This is really, really sick of them to do - to make it even moderately difficult to cancel is cruel.  To not follow through and make it very difficult is even worse.

So, what do I do now?  Cancel my credit card?  Dispute the charges?   Send them a certified letter?

I'll wait and see if this next promise is fulfilled.   But frankly, they have lost a reader for life.   It is not as if a lot of their content wasn't sort of monotone to begin with, but to treat customers this way?

Sorry, no sale!

Maybe like AOL was, they are struggling to get by. 

UPDATE:  I tried using the "Chat" feature on their website.  The person "Kara" tells me the account is cancelled but that I owe them another $55!  When I ask why, she "disconnects" from Chat.

I do not trust these people!

UPDATE:  They responded to my third e-mail, finally and promise the account is cancelled - next week!