How to avoid paying the sucker rate for a New York Times subscription.

How to protect your pockets.
Nov. 17 2010 5:20 PM

Wise Up, Print Addicts!

How to avoid paying the sucker rate for a New York Times subscription.

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8) Say, "What happens after 26 weeks?"

9) The human will answer, "It will default back to regular pricing"—back into the Marzorati Flytrap, faithful reader!—"but I definitely recommend you call at that time to see what we can do." Translation: The Times—assuming you remember to phone before your subscription comes up for autorenewal—will offer you some discount at that time, though not necessarily the same discount you had before, because Times discounting policy may change by then.

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10) The human will take a moment to check your account to see when your current subscription is due to autorenew. If it's soon, then you will get a 26-week renewal at the half-off rate.

11) If it isn't soon (as it isn't for me; I renewed for a year in April), then you will receive the half-off discount prorated for the remaining months of your subscription. You're still stuck paying full price for the part of your subscription that predated this phone call. The prorated discount will leave your account with a credit that the Times will apply to next year's renewal. How much of next year's subscription price your credit covers will depend on what discount the Times is offering at renewal time, and how much the Times jacks up the sticker price between now and then. If you forget to phone prior to the autorenewal date, then the credit will be applied to the sticker price.

12) But try to remember to call, because it's conceivable your credit will cover most if not all of next year's renewal.

A few caveats are in order.

First, this is what will work today. As word gets around that the Times habitually charges suckers twice what it charges participants in my recommended 12-step program, the company may have to rethink its variable-pricing strategy.

Second, I don't know for absolute fact that, even today, you will automatically be offered the same half-off rate I was. It's conceivable that if you've been a subscriber for less than five years you won't be offered it, and it's also conceivable that different discounts are being offered to different customers based on some incomprehensible algorithm. But if the human at the other end of the line fails to deliver, simply say: "I happen to know that Timothy Noah of Washington, D.C., recently got 50 percent off, and all he had to do was call. He wrote about it in Slate magazine." Then ask for the human's supervisor.

I feel a little bad sharing this information at a time when newspapers—even the mighty New York Times—are struggling to stay solvent. I am a lifelong Times reader and onetime Times employee. I love the product, as we longtime subscribers tend to.

But it doesn't sit easy with me that the Times' most loyal readers—the people who love the paper so much that they figure they'll pay whatever they have to—end up paying twice what they have to simply because it doesn't occur to them that the good Gray Lady is playing them for suckers. The Times subscription department has its script. Now Times subscribers will have theirs.

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Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His  book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.

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