The assistant managing editor for new products and strategic initiatives at the New York Times made a minor strategic error last week. On Nov. 10, Gerald Marzorati blurted out at a Times panel discussion on digital media that the paper had "north of 800,000 subscribers paying north of $700 a year for home delivery" who "don't seem to know that." During the recession the paper raised the home-delivery rate 5 percent, Marzorati said, but only 0.01 percent canceled. "I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that they're literally not understanding what they're paying," Marzorati said. "That's the beauty of the credit card." (He meant not the credit card itself but rather its use by the Times for automatic subscription renewals.)
The blogosphere was titillated that a top Times editor would admit that Times readers aren't savvy consumers. Seven hundred dollars, after all, is about what Apple will charge you for a 64-gigabyte iPad on which you can now read the entire Times free of charge provided you have a Wi-Fi connection. For $29 more, you can buy a 32-gigabyte iPad that you can use with either a Wi-Fi or a cellular connection. (The cellular connection will cost you $15 to $25 more per month, depending on which data plan you choose, provided you stay within your monthly data allotment.) The Times app will stop being free early next year, but no way will the subscription price be anywhere near $700. Meanwhile, you can use your iPad to also read the Washington Post app (free now; early next year it will cost about $4 per month or about $1 per month if you're a print subscriber) and the Wall Street Journal app (about $17 per month; free, at least for now, if you're a print subscriber). As noted previously by Slate's Jacob Weisberg, you don't really have to get the iPad apps to read these newspapers online, because the screen is big enough to make their Web sites decently readable.
But lets say you find the newsprint habit hard to break. You still don't have to pay $700 (or $769.60, which is what I paid last April to renew daily and Sunday delivery). The half of the story that Marzorati didn't tell is that it's actually quite easy for an existing Times subscriber to knock that $769.60 bill down to $384.80. Here's what you do, in 12 easy steps:
1) Dial 1-800-698-4637. This will take you to a recorded menu.
2) Press 4. This will take you to a new recorded menu.
3) Press 2. This will take you to a human being.
4) Say, "I'd like to discontinue my subscription."
5) When the human asks why, say, "I can't afford it." If that wounds your pride: "It's too expensive."
6) The human will consult a script and say something very close to these precise words: "I hate to see you go. You've been with us since [date here]." In my case, the human said I'd been a subscriber since 2005. In fact, I've been a Times subscriber since 1976, but I guess Times records don't go back that far.
7) The human will offer you a discount. At the moment, the discount being offered is 50 percent off for 26 weeks. "Everything will remain the same," the human will reassure you, and then again, "I hate to see you go."