Print media aren’t being killed; they’re taking slow poison

At least, that’s how it looks and feels to me.

We used to take Portland Monthly, a print magazine of the titular subject matter and frequency. While it was very kombucha-Portlandy, with minimal relevance to us out in Burberton and especially to those of us who avoid downtown (and were doing so years before protests began), enough of its content had enough value that we enjoyed it. We’d learn about a few new places to eat, or local history, or something else fun. It was worth what we paid for it.

One fine day, my issue came with a flyer. It began by thanking us for our support of independent journalism and told us how wonderful we were. That’s when a thinking person begins to expect at least a four-joint bohica.* It then informed me that there would be a change to my subscription. In order to better meet subscribers’ needs, I’d now only get four mailed print issues per year. The rest would be available online. They urged me to give them my e-mail address, so that I would not miss an issue. There was nothing about a refund, either partial or full.

Now let’s examine this. Here’s my takeaway: “Hi. We heart you big time. However, we’re now quartering the amount of content we offer you under the terms of your original subscription. Why? Because fuck you, we think you are enough of an idiot to go along with getting 1/4 of what you paid for, and we really like cutting our costs.”

Canceling my subscription felt almost like a moral duty. I don’t want to read magazines on my computer or my flip phone (can’t anyway). If I had a more advanced phone, I wouldn’t want to read them on that either. However, they could have avoided this by offering me some form of refund, offering a subscription extension, just about anything–anything, that is, except what they did: “Because we think you’re an idiot, we will be giving you less content and no compensation; suck it.” They could even have begged: “We understand this is a major change in the terms for which you paid, and we hope you will consider that a small but valuable contribution to the cause of local journalism.”

It came down not to money (the $15-odd refund isn’t exactly enough to retire on), nor to questions about content and value. It came down to my recoiling from the tactic of first kissing subscribers’ asses, then insulting our intelligence.

They’re committing suicide. Deep down, these magazines don’t ever want to print another paper copy again, so they’re doing their best to drive away anyone who wants a physical magazine in their mailboxes.

It’s working.

Sometimes it feels like I’m the only one who stands up and objects to the constant messaging trend: “In order to serve you better, we are cutting staff, reducing hours, eliminating services, raising prices, decreasing portions, and trimming options. We want you to believe this is for your benefit. We think you’re enough of an idiot to buy this.”

 

* Slang of military origin, an articulated acronym for “bend over, here it comes again.” We used to measure them by joints involved, with three for example meaning the finger, four meaning the whole hand, and six meaning up to the shoulder. Up to twelve was a double bohica, and after that one counted vertebrae for the dreaded super bohica.

4 thoughts on “Print media aren’t being killed; they’re taking slow poison”

  1. Couldn’t agree more, J.K. If I wanted online subscriptions, I’d just buy one. And I do have some online subscriptions. However, there are some things that I want to hold and touch with my fingers.
    I have immediately cancelled anyone who does the switcheroo without a really good reason. I also find that newspapers shaft their customers on a regular basis. “Subscribe for this amount.” Then, when renewal comes, we’ll hit you up for quadruple, when the paper often has so little content that it’s barely worth the introductory price.
    You got me started now, J.K.

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    1. Kirk, for me the first casualty was MAD Magazine. It had been getting less funny and with crappier artwork for years, when they announced they were going bimonthly with no plans to extend my subscription or refund any money. When they do that, there’s only one answer. I like magazines. I like reading them. If they need to charge me more, fine, tell me what it costs. But this business of slashing content and expecting the same payment has just naturally got to stop.

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  2. I love the business speak. The sad thing is they sometimes drink their own Kool-Aid. One of my personal favorites, “In order to provide you with more of the original content you desire, we are raising your subscription cost.” I’m then told about how this is an amazing opportunity for me.

    Did I desire more original content? You wouldn’t know because you never asked (no, in case you are wondering). Our business arrangement is now that I will pay you extra money to create content exclusive to your site. The purpose of said content is to lock in existing users and attract new customers. Sounds like a great partnership to me, glad I can help.

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    1. Honestly, Randy, I think the reason is one or both of two things, neither of which I like. One is “we think you’re too stupid to figure out that this is bullshit.” The other is “our goal is to drive you away and destroy our print subscription business.” Although I suppose it’s also possible that they believe their own bullshit. In any case, they’ll need to believe it without me.

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