Thursday, January 5, 2012

Worst Customer Service Ever, or Giving Up On the New York Times

I've been a regular New York Times reader since high school, when I would swipe the print copy from the principal's office to read throughout my day. I read something from nearly every section, and with the joys of the online edition, I read (or skim) nearly every article.

When went behind a paywall in May, they did their math and offered readers like me continued access to the NYTimes online free through December 31. This was both fantastic and logical: according to the little counter that appeared over the "Most Emailed Articles" I averaged around 300 articles per week.

At the start of December, I received an email inviting me to sign up for a reduced rate. I tried to sign up online, but since I had an "active" account, the NYTimes' system wouldn't let me pay. I called the phone number listed, and the lady on the phone told me that if I signed up that day (around the 20th) I would begin to pay immediately, and would be better off calling back after the New Year.

First off, I'm trying to give you my money. How can it be that you are running a business unprepared for a pre-pay customer? No wonder journalism is dying.

I called back today. I explained the situation to the young lady on the phone, who tried to look me up via my email address, which is my first initial followed by my last name, the number 2 @ my place of employment. It took us no less than 5 minutes and 3 attempts to get this right ("J as in Joke, B as in boy... No, you've got an extra 'O' in there... No, you've dropped the numeral 2...").

Once she finally figured out who I was, she told me that the offer was no longer available and would I like to sign up at the usual rate?

No, I would not like to sign up at the usual rate, since I'm doing what was suggested to me by the lady I talked to last time who couldn't sign me up then. This is ridiculous!

Here's the crux of the issue: there are plenty workarounds for the NYTimes paywall. Go ahead, turn to the googlemachine and look them up. The payment I'm willing to make is not, in my mind, a payment- to me, this is a gift designed to support an organization that performs a service I approve of, not unlike a donation to NPR.

After today's fifteen minute kerfuffle, I am no longer inclined to give; I'll use the workarounds while I decide whether I'm inclined to give them any of my money at all. Maybe in a few weeks I'll feel that I truly owe it to them: that I should try to prop up the Gray Lady beyond the revenue my traffic generates via their many roll-over and pop-up ads. More likely, they've missed their only chance to get my credit card information. In many ways, I feel guilty because I know how important a free press is to democracy, and I know how import this particular paper has been to me. But, really, if Geico and the doctor's office are prepared for me to pay up front, why shouldn't the New York Times?

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