Newspaper Paywalls: How the Globe & Mail pushed me into Apple’s Arms
I’d like to thank the Globe and Mail for dragging me into the 21st century.
I’m hitting “send” on this post from my new iPad, but until a month ago the idea of owning a tablet didn’t excite me. Didn’t need or even want one until the Globe’s relentless indifference to my needs as a customer and consumer of news pushed me into Apple’s arms.
Because as a Canadian who subscribes (rather, subscribed) to the New York Times I dealt with the circulation department of the Globe and Mail, which distributes the Times here in southern Ontario. The agreement was that they’d deliver the paper to my opulent penthouse seven days a week in return for $100 of my hard-earned money each month.
A steep price, I know, but I really didn’t mind paying it. I believe deeply enough in quality journalism to dig into my pocket for it, and as a newspaper guy my faith in print remains strong no matter what Nelson Muntz thinks about the health of the medium.
But loving the print product unconditionally doesn’t mean I’ll stand by it through repeated disrespect and wilful miscommunication.
I paid the Globe to bring me the NY Times seven days a week; my carrier would often bring me seven papers over a span of seven days.
They’re not the same thing.
Some Monday mornings I’d cruise through the lobby looking for my paper and find nothing, then ride the train downtown empty-handed. The next day I’d find a plump Tuesday edition then flip through the sections to find Monday’s paper stuffed inside. Other days the paper, like a date who suddenly discovers a more appealing option, would simply never show up.
I was paying for everyday delivery but averaging five newspapers a week. When I returned from Venezuela in October I went three straight Sundays without a copy of the Times.
That wasn’t going to work for me.
Not at 100 bucks a month.
Not after countless calls Globe circulation to straighten out the situation.
And not after repeated promises the carrier would come correct in the future.
Still, my alternatives seemed limited.
I was fully aware of the Times’ paywall, and its push for digital subscriptions — even as overall revenue dropped, digital revenue increased significantly in the second quarter of 2012. And $20 a month seemed like a fair price for unlimited access to the Times’ web site.
The problem was portability.
Surfing the Times‘ site is fine as long as I’m anchored to a computer, but for me reading the paper on the train is an integral party of my daily ritual. It’s an hour or so to catch up on some stories, get ahead on others, and organize my thoughts before I enter the newsroom to cover, uncover and tell stories of my own. To do that I need the paper in my hand, and a digital subscription doesn’t necessarily solve that problem.
But thinking like a business reporter helped put the puzzle pieces into place.
Math has never been a strength but with minimal help from my calculator I managed to deduce that a $20 monthly digital subscription would save me a ton of money compared with had I had been paying for print. After all, the 20 bucks covers what I really want to shell out for anyway — the journalism. The additional $80 pays for paper, ink and half-assed delivery.
Truck and drivers and fuel aren’t getting any cheaper.
Then it occurred to me that if I splurged on an iPad in the winter I could reduce delivery costs to zero, have a digital newspaper that could ride the train with me, and use the extra $80 month to pay off the tablet. When I stopped looking at a tablet as a cost and began to see it as an investment, the purchase made much more sense.
So as much as I hated to contribute to the grim statistics that define 21st-century newspaper circulation, convenience and personal finance dictated that I call the Globe to cancel my print subscription.
Predictably, they weren’t pleased.
Industry-wide print circulation continues to dip, so when a paying customer informs you he’s leaving you can’t be sure another subscriber will materialize to replace him. By the end of the conversation I felt like I wasn’t ending a newspaper subscription but a romance with a partner who suddenly realized she had taken my love for granted.
“Can’t you give us another chance?” the agent asked. “We can correct the problem. We can talk to the carrier.”
“Nope,” I said. “I’ve been giving you chances to get it right for months now. You keep saying you’ll fix the problem, yet here I am on the phone making another complaint. I’m good. I’m cancelling.”
And I did.
And I copped that iPad and an NYTimes digital subscription.
And I haven’t looked back — except to write this post.
I grab my tablet every morning and read the news on the way to work knowing the iPad will pay for itself by the summer on the value of the NYTimes subscription alone. The fitness apps, the two-way camera and the daily thrashings I take as I learn the intricacies of Words With Friends (username: MorganPCampbell) are all ancillary benefits of the best business decision I’ve made all year.
A few times a week a copy of the New York Times still shows up at the Penthouse, prompting me to call the Globe to make sure they’ve processed my cancellation and are no longer charging me.
The agent I spoke to assured me neither my name nor my address were in their records any longer, and that no invoices or deductions were forthcoming. The stray papers, she explained, were on the carrier. Even though my subscription had been terminated he still delivered to me a few days a week, strictly out of habit.
If he’d been in the habit of delivering consistently while I subscribed, maybe I wouldn’t have had to cancel.
But then I wouldn’t have my iPad.
I prefer living in the 21st century.
I’m good where I am.
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