Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Is The Morning Call Deceptive In Its Billing Practices?

I first met Paul Muschick when he covered Northampton County government for The Morning Call. He was a terrific reporter. I could never guess what he was thinking. His stories were always accurate and objective. No bullshit. Just the facts.

;Now he's been doing a great job as The Morning Call's Watchdog, investigating scams and unethical business practices. But can he investigate unethical business practices at his own paper?

A friend of mine claims the paper has "stooped to new lows" in its billing practices. Here's his story.
I received my new statement the other day and it seemed normal until I looked closer. My previous statement was for the period from Feb 24th thru May 17th. My new statement was for the period from May 9th thru July 17th. The start date for the new billing period was 8 days earlier than the end of the previous period. The price went from $60.60 to $59.90. A decrease in price of $.70 made no sense and upon further review, realized that the subscription went from a 12 week period down to 10 weeks. This amounted to a 18.9% increase. The subscriptions used to be for either 13, 26, or 52 weeks. I am not sure when it went from 13 weeks to 12 weeks but believe it was back in 2010. So within the period of two years the price has gone up 30%. When I called the Morning Call about the earlier start date, I was told that there was a price increase and the Customer Service Rep immediately said that he would correct the date. Whoever heard of a price increase during a fixed subscription period? It seems that the MC made a conscious decision to slip in the price increase to existing subscriptions and back off if anyone called them on it. I wonder how long the MC can stay in business when you see this type of behavior. I also wonder how many unsuspecting subscribers are out there. It is easy to miss the reduction in length of the subscription or the increase in price to a previous one. Most people just look at the amount of the bill and really don’t look at the details. Since the amount of the bill really hasn’t changed much, it is easy to miss what had happened. I don’t have a problem with anyone raising their prices, but when it is buried in the details such as this, I find it very disgusting. If you do a story on this, please do not use my name.
Whether it's tax grab for the NIZ or a rate hike for a daily newspaper, people like to be (1) told what is going on; and (2) asked if it's OK.

I'll forward this complaint to Paul. Don't know if he can ethically investigate the ethics of his own newspaper, but if it is some honest mix-up, he can probably tell us.

Updated 9:00 AM: The author of this email is unable to identify himself, but how about you? If you are a Morning Call subscriber and have had an experience like the one mentioned, Paul Muschick has told me he'll look into it. you can contact him at PMuschick@mcall.com.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

i knew you would get the niz in there somewhere

Anonymous said...

you have friends?

Anonymous said...

I cancel my subscription twice per year. It earns me a free trial and I only pay for about ten papers per year in between canceling and when marketing calls to offer me a free subscription to "get me back." The Express-Times is easier to fool than the MC. People who pay for biased newspapers are the same fools who can't avoid jury duty.

Anonymous said...

Bernie
He "was" a terrific reporter? Oh dear. Another reporter with a big, big weekend story had the wrong contact phone number inserted so readers could call to comment. Deliberate? Who knows. Try to reach the news room.

Anonymous said...

Ever try to publish an Obit in this paper? Quite costly, IMO.

Anonymous said...

If you knew what newspapers, including both LV rags, do to deliver a number to advertisers, you'd be disgusted. You'd also know how they enjoyed 30+ % profit margins for decades, and also why they are in the shape they are in today. The MC's parent company, back around 2005 or so, had a corporate VP hauled away in handcuffs for massive circulation fraud several years ago, and they were forced to return over $100 million to advertisers as a result. Serving papers to people who don't and won't pay, who never ordered it, or, in some cases, do not even exist, is a staple of the industry.

As for deceptive billing - the overlapping of the term could be a problem for them if you wanted to make a big deal out of it and if it cannot be ascribed to technological incompetence (now a daily reality at the MC). Changing the length of the subscription term is no big deal. You may not like it, but that is the same technique other consumer products, like Hellman's Mayonnaise employs - holding or raising the price while going from a 32 oz jar to 30 oz. You don't have to pay if you don't want to, and shouldn't if you want to send them a message.

6:48 a.m. is spot on, though. Newspapers are hanging on by a thread. You have great leverage. Tell them to go pound sand if they don't give you what you want. If you can live without a paper for a short time, they will come back to you with a better deal.

Of course, if everyone did that, the operation would eventually become insolvent...

Anonymous said...

The MC could save a fortune by not littering the Valley with their Thursday weekly freebie. Nobody asks for it. It get's thrown on the driveway, sometimes wrapped in plastic that will biodegrade in about 7 trillion years, and is usually driven over numerous times until it becomes a pulpy mess that must be removed with a shovel if it hasn't remained dry and blown all over the neighborhood. By Friday, their editorial staff is penning a passionate pro-environment piece admonishing readers to keep the planet clean. And they wonder why they're bleeding money?

Bernie O'Hare said...

I'd agree with that. Imagine the trees sacrificed for nothing.

Anonymous said...

Remember when we had that early fall snow wtorm. I used my snow blower to get rid of the snow because I am elderly and cannot shovel the snow. I had to stop my chore to free a newspaper from the snow auger because it jammed. The snow covered the paper and I didn't see it. I don't ask for that free paper so why should I be victim to their carelessness by throwing the damned thing (rapped in plastic) into my drive way. The MC is becoming quite the joke. Oh by the way, the new rate at the local store is $1.00 dailey and two dollars on Sundays. HEE HAW

Anonymous said...

The newsstand price for the Sunday NYT is $6 and the paper is gushing red ink and losing subscribers. Think about that when reading Paul Krugman's latest defense of Obamanomics.

Anonymous said...

ANON 12:09,

You are factually wrong about The New York Times (NYT). NYT has been cash flow positive (profitable) every year for the past decade with the exception of 2007, and that was due to heavy capital spending that year. On an operational cash flow basis NYT has been profitable for at least the past 10 years as well. This, in spite of the fact that they are in an industry in transition. And while NYT has some debt, they are not over-leveraged like Tribune Corp. (owner of The Morning Call) was after being purchased by Sam Zell.

They are losing print subscribers but have been fairly successful in picking up online subscriptions. It is a changing consumer landscape and NYT has been adapting to the new reality for news reporting.

It is a similar situation at The Washington Post (WPO) with the exception that WPO has been cash flow positive for each of the last 10 years.

Anyway ... there are the facts. I apologize if that doesn't match up with your bias and opinion.

Publius

Anonymous said...

ANONs 6:48, 9:01 and 9:18,

First, if you are doing what 6:48 says he/she is doing you have absolutely no respect for business and are pathetic. You are gaming the system and I hope you get taken (assuming you already have not) by a con artist as you surely deserve it.

Regarding why Tribune Corp went bankrupt it had nothing to do with the state of the newspaper industry and everything to do with Sam Zell.

Mr. Zell purchased Tribune corp and invested approx. $400 Million of his own money and borrowed more than $7 Billion to complete the purchase. This is commonly referred to as a leveraged buyout. When the recession hit and ad dollars went down, there was no cash to pay the debt and the company went under. This is not a unique story and one that played out for many companies in 2008.

It had nothing to do with the state of the industry as the companies with strong financials (see my previous comments on NYT and WPO) were fine. Unfortunately, what it did was cause Tribune to make poor decisions with its business because of the poor financial management of Mr. Zell. That is why the reporters were laid off; that is why they were slow to change with the changing times.

Publius

Anonymous said...

News reporting?

From the New York Times?

Yo, it's May 1.

Not April 1.

Anonymous said...

Having read this "Terminator" piece from BILL WHITE in The Morning Call I have to ask.

Is White now shooting heroin a few hours before sitting down to write now or what?

Seriously.

And The Morning Call actually expects me to pay hard-earned money for THAT?

Okay, sure.

Anonymous said...

The NYT is still believable.

Sincerely,
Jason Blair (reporting from Appalachia)

Anonymous said...

Wish I could help you, but I stopped subscribing when they neglected to deliver my paper one Sunday morning and their customer "service" rep 12 timezones away was unable to establish radio contact with the home office to have someone come out and deliver a replacement.

Anonymous said...

Publius,

NYT business performance has been well rewarded by The Market.

http://finance.yahoo.com/q/bc?s=NYT&t=my&l=on&z=l&q=l&c=

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Is White now shooting heroin a few hours before sitting down to write now or what?"

I thought it was amusing, although I also think the timing stinks.

Anonymous said...

"...NYT has been cash flow positive (profitable)

Publius

1:23 PM"

C'mon Pubius. You know they had to sell the building, got in bed with Carlos Slim for 1/4 billion and then some more. Lots of other asset sales to stay afloat.

Positive cash flow IS NOT the same as profitability. I'd have added "and you know it" but, if you do, then you are just being intellectually dishonest. Rather to give you the benefit of the doubt regarding newspaper biz accounting.

As for WAPO, Kaplan and other assets outside the daily pay the bills in that company.

Sorry if that doesn't match up with your bias and opinion.

Anonymous said...

Publius

Look at the link this time.

http://finance.yahoo.com/q/bc?s=NYT&t=my&l=on&z=l&q=l&c=

EPS and P/E ratio actually contain useable data.

Anonymous said...

A business that uses trickery, as a way of adjusting their financial shortfalls shows a true lack of account management skills and conscience. In an economy where people are making wiser decisions on how to spend their money, it is not wise to assume faithful customers are ignorant and cannot live without a newspaper! As a former employee, I find it unjust and deceptive to find that a fixed subscription rate, via EZ-Pay, has been increased 4 months prior to its original offer end. I had no prior warning to that, other than a new bill with MAJOR discrepancies in price and terms. A call was made to the 1-800 no.immediately and it took weeks for the inside billing rep. to get back to me, just to harshly leave the message on my machine that everyone's rate increased back in MARCH! Not offering to honor the deal that I've agreed to when payment was made. I do know ALL calls are recorded!! Is that a HOAX or what? There is an obvious lack of moral compass in the upper chains of management and with those in the workforce, who follow command, by gleefully blindsiding others.