I've been a Statesman Journal subscriber for 40 years. Recently I got a notice that my 7-day subscription price will go up from $36/month to $41/month.
At first that didn't bother me. Yeah, it's a 14% increase in an economy where inflation is running under 3% a year. And I was paying only $205 a year back in 2009, which translates into a Statesman Journal subscription price of $17/month.
So that's a 140% subscription increase over eight years, an average of 17.5% a year.
I was curious to see if the $41/month our subscription was going to cost starting in April 2017 was the regular price. Or the price a new subscriber would pay.
What I learned has led me to conclude that the Gannett Corporation, in the guise of the Statesman Journal, appears to be scamming new subscribers and confusing current subscribers.
Here's what the Statesman Journal says a 7-day a week subscription costs: $22/month.
There's an introductory offer of just $11/month, 50% off the usual rate -- which my razor-sharp senior citizen mind was able to calculate equaled the above $22/month rate.
OK. I now knew that the regular advertised subscription rate for 7-day home delivery is $22/month. Which led me to wonder, why the heck is my subscription going to cost $41/month?
Optimistically, I figured that if I phoned the toll-free number on the rate increase notification that came from the Statesman Journal, a customer service person would give me the $22/month rate after I told them my story.
But that didn't happen. Instead, the person I talked with said that the $22/month rate was just an introductory rate that would jump after the first three months were over.
I replied, "No, the introductory rate for 7 day delivery is $11/month. That's shown as a 50% savings from the regular rate, which is $22/month. So why can't I have the $22/month rate?"
Her response was to reiterate that the introductory rate would jump up to the regular rate, which apparently was my $41/month rate, after the first few months were over. Since that was her final offer, I thanked her and tried a different approach.
The other customer service option on the rate increase letter: "log in at StatesmanJournal.com/customer service for a live chat with a Customer Service representative."
Result: same answer. This is most of our chat exchange. What's missing is my initial question, which isn't shown on the thread. But I repeated that question in my first chat message (in blue) below.
Well, this was disturbing.
The way I see it, Kevin had told me that the $22/month rate actually was a "promotional" rate, and the $11/month rate was an "introductory" rate (or maybe the reverse), even though nothing I could find on the Statesman Journal site indicates that $22/month is anything other than the regular rate.
When I log out of my Statesman Journal account and visit the SJ web page as a non-subscriber, I'm met with an invitation to subscribe in the upper right corner. This is what pops up when I click on it.
Again, the Monday-Sunday 7 day a week option says $11/month for the first three months, "save 50%." Fifty percent of $22 is $11. When I click on "subscribe," I'm led to a page where I took this screenshot:
Now, this page doesn't say what the price will be after three months. But the previous page said that I'd pay $11/month for three months, a 50% saving. So this sure seems to mean that the regular price will be $22/month.
Except... I'm paying $41/month starting in April. And I was told by two different customer service people that I couldn't get a lower subscription rate.
So it appears that the Statesman Journal is misleading people with the $22/month Monday-Sunday price offer. Or, I was misled that there is no lower price than $41/month.
Either way, somebody is getting scammed.
I'll ask Statesman Journal staff to comment on this blog post. Also, I'd be interested to know if anyone else is paying a different amount for a regular Monday-Sunday subscription. Again, I've been paying $36/month, which is going to jump to $41/month in April 2017.
It's difficult to get comparable up-to-date figures on newspaper circulation these days. A few years ago I presented evidence that from 2008 to 2014, the Statesman Journal had a 41% decline in daily circulation (excludes Sunday).
Thus it is understandable that Salem's daily newspaper would be both raising subscription prices and trying to attract new subscribers. I just wish the Statesman Journal would be more open and upfront about its pricing, because it looks like the paper is attempting to suck in new subscribers with an approach that arguably is a scam.
Meaning, making it look like $22/month is the regular Monday-Sunday price, even though I was told by two customer service representatives that the price I'm paying, $41/month, is the lowest non-promotional price.
Update: I tried to find the email address of Barbara Smith, VP Customer Service, who signed the oh-so-personal letter addressed to me with a Statesman Journal return address. But it turns out that Ms. Smith is a Gannett executive who signs letters that go to Gannett subscribers all around the country.
A bit of Googling turned up a marvelously snarky 2013 piece from the Nashville Scene, "Dear Customer: Pay More for Less. Love, Barbara." Some excerpts:
In a move that truly merits a place of honor in the corporate hallucination hall of fame, the "customer service" wing of The Tennessean dropped me (and presumably all 16 other remaining print subscribers) a line this week informing me that the paper's utter fabulousness warrants an arresting 26% hike in the subscription price. This big an increase all at once would be irksome on its own given a low-inflation economy and the ever-declining quality of Gannett's product, but coming as it does on the heels of multiple rounds of newsroom layoffs it's downright appalling.
Of course, the missive from Customer Service VP Barbara Smith doesn't bother to mention the old rate or the scope of the increase. The hope, obviously is that we won't notice its magnitude, nor recall that subscription prices rose big time as recently as mid-2012 when the paper unveiled digital apps and an online paywall. In all, the cost of my seven-day home-delivery subscription in the last 15 months has jumped a whopping 68 percent, from $17.25 in May 2012 to the new rate of $29.00 starting next month.
...Look, we readers get it that the newspaper business is economically dire, and that over the long run, daily dead-tree home delivery is becoming an expensive luxury. Many news organizations are confronting their uncertain future by struggling heroically to maintain the mission and the quality while bracing against the gathering storm. At The Tennessean the approach is a little different: deplete the staff, kill morale, dilute the quality of the product, jack up the prices, and hope nobody notices.
Sounds familiar. This is the Gannett modus operandi. It's being done here in Salem, and also elsewhere. For example, check out this report, "Layoffs in Local Newsrooms," which describes recent cuts at Gannett newspapers in New Jersey.
I canceled my subscription two years ago. Just sayin'
Posted by: Maren | March 27, 2017 at 08:30 PM
I pay $29 for a digital subscription. I read the E-Newspaper every morning. Sometimes they failed to deliver my paper newspaper. Don't have to worry about that anymore. It took a little getting used to, but I'm glad I made the switch.
Posted by: Jim Scheppke | March 27, 2017 at 09:25 PM
I suggest you contact the DOJ Consumer Protection office (they have a toll-free number) and ask them to help you with parsing that offer. If $11/month is "Save 50%", then the comparison quantity is $22/month.
Posted by: Walker | March 27, 2017 at 11:09 PM
Gannett's price increase would be a bit less galling (and ever so slightly justifiable) if they were still delivering the same level of content. Instead over the past few years they have adopted the policy of "less for more."
I honestly feel lucky if i see more than 2 local bylines in the entire first section. Everything else is AP stories, regurgitated press releases, maybe a half column story from a sister paper, and plenty of low-effort low-content reader feedback stories featuring the same circle of mouthbreathers spouting off the same drivel ad infinitum. (um.. err.. except for the occasional enlightening well reasoned opinions offered by the intelligent and charming Mrs. and Mr. Hines) The Statesman Journal's paid-for "content" should not lead me to be so well versed in the political musings of Dorian Fucking Atkins that I am able to anticipate his always offered (and printed!) ill-informed opinions before I even read them.
Posted by: salemander | March 28, 2017 at 04:31 AM
Wow! Poor, poor, poor customer service! Tried calling to take care of a billing issue from SJ. I changed banks in May, change the auto pay to new bank, 2 months later, I get a letter that my delivery will be cancelled if I don't pay. Well SJ, I've had to deal your errors over the years, each time being your error! I hall to call 3 times in July to finally get a rep to answer my call. I noticed in October no autopay was taken out, tried to call and get through once again. Gave up and then I got a call from SJ mail rep, gave correct date of expiration code on my autopay. Still nothing for weeks. I once again have tried to call 6 times with being on hold for over 15 to 30 minutes, only to be hung up on! I then sent an email 11/14/17 PM, got return email that they would call the next day. Still no call! Now a letter to call 11/21/17, which I'm now on hold for 30 minutes! WTH~ The only reason we have SJ is that my husband wants it. I would have ditched this piece of crap years ago! Am I angry you ask? Yes, indeed! I can't get this resolved. I'd pay online, but guess what its over $33.00 more than I owe!~ The worst!
Posted by: Ms. Lee | November 21, 2017 at 02:52 PM
Barbara Smith strikes again in Indianapolis!!
Here in Indianapolis, I just received a similar letter and experience. The letter, signed again by "Barbara Smith, VP Customer Service" indicates that my monthly subscription will be increasing from $39 to $58.51, a 50% increase. On the website new subscribers are offered an introductory rate of $13/mo, represented as a 50% discount, which would indicate a base subscription price of $26/mo!
I wonder if Barbara Smith even exists, or if that is just a fake identity that they use to diffuse the anger?
Posted by: J.B. | December 15, 2017 at 08:14 AM
My letter from the SJ stated that I would be paying $46.00 plus tax. Probably equates to $50. I went to SJ and asked to cancel my subscription. They advised me that someone would call to negotiate my cost. SJ called and I will be getting the Wednesday and Sunday paper for $11. They should never have involved themselves with USA Today. They should not have changed some of the comics. They really don't report anything; no births, no marriages, no divorces, no arrests, etc. My home town paper prints more that SJ. I believe they should change the name of the paper to LSJ (Liberal Statesman Journal).
Posted by: Dagmar Grieve | January 03, 2018 at 01:27 PM
I recently called in to cancel,I get wed and Sunday.was told I could get it for 7$ a month for 3 months. I decided I could accept that ,my next bill is for 25$! Looks like I will be spending another 20 minutes on hold so I can cancel.
Posted by: Tim hoover | January 03, 2018 at 01:44 PM
S J is impossible to contact. Try to send a comment and you are told that not all fields are correct. I typed in the no robot numbers about 6 times before giving up. Have been a subscriber for about 50 years. No more. Rates get bigger, paper gets smaller. I' m done.
Posted by: Michael Bruce Hay | February 12, 2018 at 06:00 PM
Yesterday, I received a mail from Statesman Journal saying that my subscription fee is going up from $42/mon to $60/mon starting 7/1/2018.
$60 is the same price as Costco's annual membership and I cancelled the subscription just now.
Statesman Journal is not worth $60/mon for me.
Posted by: Hiroshi Nishida | June 19, 2018 at 09:45 AM
This price hike has happened about three times so far since I've been employed with Gannett and locally working at Statesman Journal. I don't have much on specifics but it is clearly a demographically determined rate. We've experienced significant reduction in work force in most departments. We also have carriers that regularly fail to deliver the paper and are only still employed here because no one else is willing to do the work.
Oh.. and unfortunately more and more processes have been taken away from our customer service and they will likely insist you call the 800 number. Sometimes they may forward you to 502-333-7813 without giving you that number of course ;)
Posted by: Anonymous | June 27, 2018 at 01:56 PM
Gannet has done a Tony Soprano-like bust out of the once locally owned Capital Journal and Oregon Statesman. As a subscriber since 1980 I have witnessed the acceleration of decline of the paper in the last ten years. The Sports Department is now one guy who is expected to cover two PAC12 universities, several small colleges, and a couple dozen high schools in a SMSA of over 400,000 people. My Midwestern hometown of just over 18,000 has three dedicated sports reporters on their staff.
And it’s not just sports coverage, everything has been stripped out of the paper. I believe it started when the deceased were asked to pay for their own obits.
Sure Gannett, like most of the media in the US, has a corporate far left message to send, mostly through their nationwide paper USAT, but that could be ignored if there was more local news than just county restaurant inspections.
Is Gannett getting ready to fold up their newspaper biz? They fired the printers and sold the machinery. They are trying to sell the building.
The last straw was a letter from some Gannett kid in Kentucky/Indiana telling me that as a valued longterm customer my rate was jumping from $22 a month to $45 a month.
My wife and I can almost fly both of us RT to Hawaii for that price. Hope someone local buys this turkey or picks its bones when it assumes room temperature. We need local news and local ownership. You’d think the Capital of Oregon could manage that and maybe a local TV station. (We don’t want Roseburg and K-falls to dance around us.
Posted by: Stephen Ross | May 27, 2019 at 07:43 PM
i cancelled my subscription in june they still took the payment from my bank acct.. i called and was told i would get a refund within 2 weeks... now its been more than 2 months and about 6 phone calles and still NO REFUND ..WTF they take the money quick but dont want to refund you in a timely manner
Posted by: none | August 13, 2019 at 01:52 PM
Now, 2019, things have only gotten worse with our beloved Gannett. Brian, you should probably adjust your subscription cost figures to factor in days when the paper is not delivered at all, which in our case is at least once or twice a month. I've calculated our cost at over $650 a month. And from time to time I can't help thinking that if their business and operational practices are so shabby, is it not possible that perhaps their journalism isn't what we'd hope for.
Posted by: Les Margosian | August 28, 2019 at 10:04 AM
This scam is still going on. I just now went thru the same email/chat cycle reported here. I'm paying $68 per month for 7-day delivery when the website says the rate is $26 per month and I'm being stonewalled as to why.
I'm gonna offer to cancel and see if I get a 'negotiation' on my price.
Oh, and my delivery record for the past year stank. I had more missing papers than in the ten previous years combined.
Posted by: Mark Joerger | June 30, 2021 at 10:56 AM