Why I will never subscribe to another newspaper
A while back, a high school kid with a broken arm and hopes of paying for college came to my door, selling the Daily Breeze (a South Bay paper). $20 for eight weeks. He struggled to balance the clipboard on his cast while reaching into his pocket, then pulled out a five-dollar bill. He had apparently received this as a tip from one of our friendly neighbors, and offered to give me the five dollars if I wrote a check to the Daily Breeze for $20.
Now, I was not particularly interested in subscribing to a newspaper, since I get most of my news from the internet already. But I had just moved into my new house, and for $20 there were worse things to buy, especially if this would help a kid get to college. I wrote out the check, and signed the slip (I will include a picture of the receipt when I can scan it, which luckily I saved). Of course I did not take his $5 tip...that was his to keep.
I made sure with the kid that there would be no "auto-renewal" or some crap like that, but I felt stupid after asking, because I had paid up front after all (not with credit card). And please note that I do not blame the kid for anything that follows.
Well, I get my few months of the paper. Somebody calls from the Daily Breeze (or perhaps a company selling on behalf of the Breeze -- they seem separate), and asks if I want to renew, which I turn down. The papers keep coming longer than I expect, but eventually they stop, I easily replace my 5 minute breakfast read with a novel, and I'm thankful I no longer have to make an extra trip to the paper recycling bin.
A little while later, I get a letter from the Daily Breeze, asking if I want to re-subscribe. Before throwing the letter away, I notice they have the payment broken down into "current balance" and price of future subscription. Whatever.
Then, the calls start. I get a few miss calls from (636) 925-1746, but they are awkward times of the day and they don't leave a message. I seem to recall this number as one that I answered regarding my "subscription" to Daily Breeze, and searching on the internet suggests that this number is associated with a company representing various local papers. But ultimately the call I *do* pick up (1 minute after I barely miss the 636 number) is (949) 274-8254, and guess who (it seems to be common practice among telemarketers to switch the area codes they call from)?
I wrote a transcript of the conversation down soon after getting off the phone, so it's pretty accurate:
Saleswoman: Am I speaking with Troy?
Saleswoman: Just wanted to let you know I've been authorized to offer you a $10 Target gift card with a renewal of the Daily Breeze. It is XX for the year [I thought she said $39.96, but that doesn't seem right], and then you have a balance of $23.76 [or something around that number]. We can go ahead and take care of this right over the --
Me: No thanks, I'm good.
Saleswoman: Okay, let's just pay off your balance of $23.76 and we can go ahead and close out your account.
Me: I'm not sure why you think I have a balance. I paid $20 up front to a kid selling 8 weeks of the Breeze, he said there would be no renewal, and when someone called to ask if I wanted to renew I said 'no'.
Saleswoman: So how did you cancel your account? Did you explicitly call up to cancel the subscription?
Me: No, that's the whole reason I paid up front. They asked if I wanted to renew and I said 'no'.
Saleswoman: Oh, well you have to call up and cancel your subscription. I'm sorry if there was confusion between you and our representative, but we still have you with an unpaid balance of $23.76.
Me: I'm going to go ahead and NOT pay that, so --
Saleswoman: Okay, before I have to hand it off to another department, what I can do is cut that balance in half. Do you want to do that?
Me: No, I'm just not going to pay it. This is predatory practice. Good luck trying to collect.
Saleswoman: Okay, thank you sir.
Total call time: 2 minutes, 51 seconds. Total time to piss me off: 1 minute, 3 seconds.
A few notes on the conversation:
1) It was early for me, so I was in a bad mood before I even answered the phone, and was not at my sharpest.
2) Despite my tone, the saleswoman remained very polite the entire time, which makes me think they are used to pissing people off with this scam.
3) My favorite line of mine was the "I'm going to go ahead and NOT pay that"...even reflecting, I could not think of something better to say.
4) On the other hand, my "predatory practice" statement makes me cringe. It's over the top, probably not very accurate...and it sounded stupid and wannabe-lawyery when it came out of my mouth.
5) I love when the woman says "Another Department". Is this some ominous debt collection agency that will break my thumbs?
So onto my initial thesis -- why does this make me think the newspaper industry is in trouble?
Well, consider if you had a product that people actually wanted...one that people needed to read in order to start their days. In that case, if somebody paid up-front by cash/check and his subscription ran out (despite warning that he only had X days left), what would you do? If it were me, I would cut him off, and then when he walked out to find his beloved paper missing, he would rush to the phone to remedy the situation, and would make sure such a thing NEVER happened again.
Now consider the alternative, when you have a crappy product in low demand. A person would hardly notice when his paper stopped coming, except to note that his recycling bin stayed surprisingly empty. What strategy could you use then? Clearly, you choose the slime-ball approach, and keep delivering those papers for a while since, hey, nobody else wants them anyway. You cut the papers off at some arbitrary point, preferably when the "balance" is more than he originally paid in the first place, and then use terms like "account" to sound official and try to guilt/scam him into paying for a product he never wanted in the first place.
Seriously, consider what they are saying, and if they *actually* expect to collect in such a scenario, or if it is a scam. They are essentially willing to open up a tab / line of credit, worth MORE than the original order paid up-front, for somebody who never requested said tab, and showed no sign of wishing to renew the product? I don't think so.
This is the old "well we gave it to you, so you must pay" trick. It's no different from the homeless guy who rushes up to a car with his rag and starts washing the windshield despite the objections of the driver -- does he get change from some people who feel guilty? Sure. Does he expect it from every driver? Of course not! I feel guilty for the homeless man, but NOT for the scammers selling this paper, and that is why I will not pay here.
Consider that the salewoman explained that she could cut the balance in half. Is it typical with real debt that a low-level telemarketer has the power to mysteriously erase half of it after some slight complaining, or does this sound like a scam, where they are trying to extract any money possible?
After getting off the phone, I went scrounging around for the receipt, to see if there was any fine print I missed. Nope. As I mentioned, I will upload this as soon as possible. But for now, I will share the only paragraph actually written on there regarding terms (the subscription form is small):
This introductory offer is for new subscribers only. I have not had a home delivery at this address in the past 30 days. After the introductory offer my subscription will continue at the regular rate.
I guess this is the "contract". You could maybe make the case that "will continue" suggests an auto-renewal, if this line was by itself. But considering the context of the rest of the paragraph, where everything stresses the introductory rate, any sane person would read that last line to suggest merely that you can't continue getting the same price after the original offer runs out. There is NOTHING about "I must call to cancel my subscription if I do not want to be charged further." And there is CERTAINLY nothing about "even though I've paid up front for a certain amount of papers, I would like to open a line of credit, whereby you will keep delivering me papers and eventually you will call and annoy me to collect the amount that I never agreed to pay."
Yeah, in the end, it only came down to about ten dollars that I would need to pay. But it is the principle. If I cave and just pay, and everybody else does, they will continue to make money off this scam. I hope this won't affect my credit score -- I can't imagine it would. I wait with anticipation on what this mysterious "other department" could be. But honestly, I'm guess that the only way I will need to pay this amount is if I decide to subscribe to a paper again, which brings this around to the title -- why I will never subscribe to another newspaper.