There are times when I wonder if the Burlington Free Press and its corporate overlord have flipped their mission statement. Times when it seems like they’re trying to KILL the newspaper business by driving away their customer base.
The latest time came recently, when I received a postcard from Barbara Smith, VP of Customer
Obstruction Service, notifying me of A New Enhancement to My Gannett Experience.
Oh Lord, I thought. What fresh hell is this?
Two things. First, the Freeploid is launching “an exclusive, special Sunday premium section on popular local topics four times a year.” Yeah, I’ll bet they’re on advertiser-friendly subjects like Food, Tourism, Skiing, Buy Local, and stuff like that. I doubt there will be any additional journalism on offer.
The bad news? “The subscription rate will be an additional $1 for each of these exclusive, special Sunday premium sections.”
Yaaaay! I’ll be paying extra for ad-friendly “content” just like I’m currently paying for recycled USA TODAY “content” in every freakin’ paper.
These special Sunday sections are a particularly insidious way to soak subscribers, since many of us opt for the web-access-plus-Sunday-paper rate that’s the best deal. (As the Vermont Political Observer, I kind of have to keep up with what the Freeploid is saying. We also subscribe to the Times Argus, FYI. And we donate regularly to VTDigger.) Until now, the web-plus-Sunday rate was the same as the web-only rate. Now, it’ll be four bucks a year more.
This comes on top of last year’s move, to distribute advertising-heavy holiday papers (Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.) to all subscribers — and charge you for them, whether you want ‘em or not. You can opt out, but you have to do so for every holiday. In advance.
Back to the current crop of bad news from the Freeps.
The postcard also brought notice of “a change to our subscription cancellation policy. Refunds will only be made to positive account balances of $10 or more.”
Since subscribers pay by the month, their account balances will often be under $10. (For me, it’s more than half of each month.) Unless you time your cancellation carefully, you’ll be giving an involuntary donation to the Free Press on your way out the door.
That’s the new Free Press Subscriber Harassment Campaign in all its glory. For non-subscribers, it’s even worse: the newsstand* price of a single issue is now $1.50. How the hell they expect anyone to voluntarily buy one of their crappy, wafer-thin papers for a buck-fifty is beyond me.
*Hey, remember newsstands?
These are all relatively minuscule changes, but when you add them all up, the result is an adversarial relationship between the Free Press and its customers. Instead of paying for a product and receiving the product, you have to be constantly on the lookout for the Freeploid’s little tricks and traps.
Not exactly the traditional way to build good will with your customers. But hey, I guess that’s how it’s done in the Newsroom Of The Future.
By the way, in case you were wondering, I remain blocked from the @bfp_news Twitter feed. Damned cowards.