New York Times Digital Subscriber Frustrations

A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.
For anyone who knows me personally, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that I am an avid New York Times reader. I first started reading regularly while attending the University of Washington as an undergraduate student. To their credit, UW distributed paper editions of both The Daily and the Times for free. Beginning my day with a strong cup of coffee and a crisp morning edition of the Times became something of a personal ritual, and is one that I still maintain.

When the Times first announced their paywall back in 2010, I was understandably skeptical. When the paywall went live it was pretty clear to anyone in the newspaper business that it was going to take some seriously drastic measures to curtail shrinking profit-margins. That in mind, locking down content at the expense of decreasing overall ad-views is still a pretty risky business move irregardless of the prestige associated with the Times as the world's preeminent newspaper.

Fast forward a few years and it would appear that the paywall is in fact working. Wired has published some pretty positive articles that say as much. The Huffington Post even went as far as to comment that the Times digital subscribers may surpass their print counterparts by 2014. Regardless of how quickly their digital subscriber base is growing, it was still unsettling to read earlier this morning that the Times posted an 85% reduction in profits year over year.

Clearly, the newspaper is depending on a dramatic rise in their number of digital subscribers to offset their loss of profits attributable to advertising. I can wholeheartedly support that approach and I have quite literally done so as a digital subscriber myself for the past two years. The only problem with that plan is that the Times digital subscriber account management system is horrendous.

Since first becoming a digital subscriber, I have paid for what the Times refers to as their '' + Smartphone App' plan. The plan allows for full digital access to the paper via a desktop browser and any smartphone running iOS or Android. Unfortunately, it did not provide full-access to the newspapers incredible Chrome Web Store application. For me this was an absolute must when reading the newspaper on a Chromebook.

I assumed upgrading would be as simple as logging into my Times account and changing the subscription plan myself. Wrong. After logging in and unsuccessfully searching for an option to upgrade, I was instead informed via a billing FAQ that the only way to upgrade my account was by calling a customer service representative. Frustrated but not yet deterred, I called the 1-800 number and only had to wait for about 15 minutes before talking to a live customer representative. I informed her of my intent to upgrade so that I could use the paper's Chrome application. Our interaction went something like this:

Representative: "OK, so you would like to upgrade to view the New York Times on your Android tablet?"
Me: "No, I just want to view the newspaper through the Chrome application."
Representative: "Right, on your Android tablet."
Me: "No. I want to read the paper through the Chrome application on my laptop."
Representative: "Sir, you can already read the Times from your laptop by using your web browser."
Me: "I understand that, but I would really like to use the Chrome application in the Chrome Web Store."
Representative: "I'm going to need to put you back on hold..."

Ultimately I was placed on hold for an additional 10 minutes while the customer representative sorted this out. When she did in fact attempt to upgrade my service, she was unable to do so because I had previously elected to pay my monthly subscription fee with PayPal. Apparently users who elect to pay with PayPal cannot upgrade their accounts unless they specifically add a credit-card to their account. After asking me over the phone to provide my credit-card number five, yes five separate times, the representative was forced to cancel my account in its entirety before she was successfully able to 'upgrade' me onto a tablet subscription.

So back to my original point. I love the New York Times. I also love their high-quality Chrome application. However, for a company that has publicly staked their future on expanding their digital subscriber base, I was somewhat appalled by the customer experience afforded to me while attempting to upgrade my account. Seriously, I just wanted to give them more money.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays in the long-run, but in the meantime I'll remain a loyal if not somewhat annoyed subscriber.

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A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.