Why does the WSJ treat customers like crap? Subscriptions Models #fail

August 7, 2012

in General Interest, ipad

I value and enjoy reading the WSJ everyday. I tweet article links too (although they are not aways shareable). WSJ is a great resource and I now have until the 11th of September to decide whether or I continue subscribing. For many years I’ve had the WSJ delivered home. I’m also an active online news user on both iPad and iPhone. Some time ago when the electronic versions went behind pay walls I also had to choose between NYTimes and the WSJ based on cost. I then ended up with my current promotional offer. Today I trust the WSJ to keep me mostly up to date. Yet there is no “news” on the WSJ that isn’t available elsewhere in a timely fashion. See Flipboard or Skygrid for example.

Yesterday I received an email from the WSJ. It made me feel abused. In a nutshell it said.

  1. This notification is to inform you that your subscription will be renewed through our Automatic Renewal Program. 
  2. As a reminder we will automatically renew your subscription for one year at the current rate of $8.75 per week. Your credit card will be charged $455 unless you cancel before your renewal date. Sales tax may apply in certain states.

What!!! Fact last year I paid $213.72 ($4.11 per week) for the combined print & digital service. $455 represents a steep year on year increase!

The WSJ is not alone in using promotional offers to sign up subscribers. Comcast does this and so do other Cable TV companies. Rope you in… then raise the price after six or 12 months. When accessing the WSJ online site there is no place to cancel or manage your subscription. Even renewals require you to call a rep. I called the WSJ to cancel. They immediately offered their promotional rates. For print and digital $5.99 per week for 12 months then rising to $9.65. The rep informed me I can save additional money by going digital. $4.99 per week  for 52 weeks then going to $7.95 after 12 months.  I canceled and will see what offers I get.

Conclusions:

  • So the reward for being a good customer is “charge them substantially more” than a new customer. This simple rewards starting new accounts, using a different email and credit card and waiting for the right promotion. I’m sure I’ve not heard the last of my cancelation or seen their last offer.
  • Hope the customer doesn’t read their email so WSJ can say… ‘we charged you inline with your contractual agreement”… when you call them to complain about the bill on your credit card. You may or may not get a discount and credit at this point. They will have your money.
  • There is no real discount for the digital edition. I’m sure it costs more than $1 per week to deliver six papers to my door. Where is the savings? Digital edition readers are also more likely to participate in social media etc. Although the current closed environment doesn’t really encourage this.
  • The differential in cost print vs digital should make the iPad even more attractive to both WSJ and users. I see their fee structure as continuing to to subsidize the print business rather than growing the digital business. That’s nuts!
  • The digital subscription appears to have few limits on the number of devices that current access it under one account name. Registering devices will make sense in future. Is the iPhone edition worth the same as the iPad edition? More or less? Depends is the answer. My account currently runs on two iPads and I think 4 mobiles. We almost never look at the website. Should there be device limitations? What’s reasonable? One iPad subscription should be much cheaper than a multi-device subscription. The utility certainly goes down, and depending on your view it may or may not be better than a paper. There could also be one active device at a time type of support. Will we see a shit to personal rather than family or household subscriptions?
  • I don’t mind paying although I lament some of the restrictions on sharing. There’s an opportunity to provide a better membership model and build more community around it.

Perhaps I’m a dinosaur I actually still read papers whether digital or print. I also suspect there’s a product for the $.20 cents per day paper or the $.10 cents a day. Unfortunately there aren’t any small independent digital papers that are around at $.10 cents per day. I might happily assemble four or five for daily reading. Business, Sports, Lifestyle, etc. I might buy the WSJ for the technology and popular sections and nothing else. I might buy the NYTimes or Guardian for “world” etc. Papers are still too scared to price their sections. The future is coming the current closed and ring fenced models are just biding time.

BTW With their current promotion I can go to the NYTimes for $3.85 per week delivered home Monday to Friday and get full access to the digital editions for all my family. Is the WSJ really worth $5.99 / $3.85 or  55% more per week? I suspect not.

Finally I must remember. I am a subscriber not a customer so they probably don’t care much about my feelings, my lifestyle, and my real relationship with the WSJ. Subscribers and subscriptions work when they are increasing. It’s a problem when your business is shrinking. One day perhaps you will think of me as a customer – the more unique the better.

  • Ben Slivka

    Thank you for sharing your vent.
    We’ve been print subscribers to the WSJ since 1986, and I’ve been reading it on my iPad for nearly 2 years.
    I just got a snail mail renewal notice, offering me a year for $501.80.
    I was curious, Googled, and found that Amazon.com would sell me a year for $413.40.
    So I called the WSJ 1.800 number, got the two tones taking me to a CS rep overseas, gave him my customer number, asked for his best price, and he quoted me the $501.80 figure. After some back and forth, he agreed to give me the Amazon.com rate.
    Sigh…

  • kc

    they make unsubscribing hell, I stay away

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