Don’t Blame the Web When Newspapers Die

I love it when I’m mulling something over and an article appears that sums it up, at least partly. Don’t Blame the Web When Newspapers Die is one such example

The disappearance of the paperboy. I was a paper-boy as a kid. It was good money, and my knocking on doors seeking subscriptions or asking to be paid put a human face on the paper. Circulation grew with the population, but now newspapers must offer free subscriptions to sucker the rubes to renew. These offers come from Mumbai by phone, usually when you’re at dinner. The bean counters love it. Some middle-aged man now delivers the paper out of an old Chevy.

We are reading a lot about people getting their news from the web instead of print, or the failures of news companies (MSM – or “main stream media”) to allow sharing and get with the co-creation program, blah blah blah.

But really, these newspaper companies are messed for other reasons (such as are outlined in the article). They can’t provide their basic service very well – to get a printed piece of a paper to your door every day, and to stop getting you those printed pages when you ask them to.

Every single time I travel I have to put two papers on hold (the SF Chron and the NYT). I’ve started putting them on hold a day early, even though I’d like a paper that day, I have to ensure they actually do stop the paper when they are supposed to.

Last week we went away and I did my usual. One paper still arrived, so I called and spoke to a human who verified my hold was in the system and indicated that they would escalate a notice to some district person to get it stopped. The next day a paper arrived – and I was already in Toronto – so I called long distance (the 800 number doesn’t work outside the US, of course) and restated the situation again and told them I did not want to come home to a pile of papers. “Absolutely, we’ll let the supervisor know and get that sorted out.” The phone call, mind you, cost $8.00 from the hotel. Cheaper than my international roaming charges on Verizon? I dunno.

And we came home to find, indeed, a pile of papers. They didn’t follow the first notice, they didn’t follow the first escalation, or the second escalation, nor did they respond to the pile of papers sitting in the driveway (hey, maybe that would be a clue that they should not be delivering them).

The day after we got back, the other paper didn’t arrive. I had to call in to get that delivery problem sorted out. I’m so fed up with these papers – you can’t get anyone at the main office to take you seriously, all they can do is pass a message onto a mysterious supervisor who presumably deals with the middle-aged man in the old car who drives down my street early in the morning.

One day a few months ago neither paper arrived (and unrelated to any vacation hold, even), so I called both offices. And I actually got a followup call from the carrier, telling me to call them if I had a problem (in other words, don’t let our boss know). And – for the two papers – it was the same carrier!

Meanwhile, I’m feeling totally unresolved about last week’s unwanted deliveries. I’m not calling in and speaking to another drone again; I sent an email asking for a supervisor to call me about an unresolved problem, and I’m thinking about canceling the paper if they don’t take me seriously. The fact is, I need them more than they need me. They aren’t interested in me as a customer – the delivery mechanism is so far removed from the news gathering organization, that there’s no one who is going to respond in any fashion, let alone take any actual steps to keep this from happening. It’s just a lousy single customer for them, but it’s more than inconvenience for me, it’s about home security – there’s nothing worse than a bunch of papers to advertise that the house is prime for breaking and entering and stealing and leaving. If I can’t travel without worrying that a disinterested low-paid employee is going to put my safety and security at risk, then it’s maybe not worth it.

I still like the paper, and I like reading it cover to cover more than I could ever do online. But they don’t deserve my meager business.

I’m not sure if this consistently poor level of customer service is what’s going to further destroy the newspaper business, or if we’ll just tolerate it like we do with banks, HMOs, utilities, phone companies, Best Buy, and so on.


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