As a journalist, I appreciate the importance of paying for quality journalism—but my budget only can absorb so many paywall subscriptions. I am disappointed to, once again, abandon the digital Wall Street Journal. Cost is too high. I resubscribed this year for a 6-month, election special promotional rate of $87—and received great value. The Journal became my newspaper of record during the brutal, belabored, blood-sucking Presidential campaign.
My sub would have auto-renewed on December 9th. But for how much? Nowhere (that I can find) does the account page disclose this vital information. So yesterday afternoon, I called customer service and received a shock that required the guy to repeat the renewal amount four times. Surely I misunderstood him: $98.97 for three months. That’s $395.88 per year! I pleaded for a deal and got one that isn’t low enough: $130.44 for six months. The WSJ rep compared the monthly costs for the incredible savings: $21.74, rather than $32.99 monthly. But as I told him, the meaningful comparison is to my other paid papers (digitally).
WSJ shouldn’t let escape such a customer as me. I started subscribing to the Digital Journal 20 years ago. That’a right, no kidding, in 1996. That’s so long ago, my log-in credentials are a short username, not an email address. The company called its digital product the Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition; I signed on with a 90-day free promotion offered when Microsoft released Internet Explorer, then paid $49 for a year’s access. Considering the print paper cost nearly four times more, and wasn’t as convenient, digital suited my needs. If I rightly recall, WSJ offered then, if not later, software for reading the content. Long later: Browser and mobile app access.
The cost to read digitally is seemingly exponentially more 20 years later. Using the U.S. Inflation Calculator, that forty-nine dollar’s adjusted value today: $75.49, which is a 54.1 percent increase. WSJ wants so much ridiculously more: 708 percent, which is a Hell of a price increase over 20 years! By comparison, U.S. price for a Big Mac was $2.36 in 1996. Two decades later: $3.99, nationally, or $4.69 at the McDs down the road from my apartment. Using the higher figure, the price increased by 98.7 percent, or 69.1 percent for the other; neither approaches the Journal’s gouging American consumers—who need the mental food for their anorexic brains more than burger fare for their bulging guts.
But there are different measures of value. WSJ Digital costs $1.08 per day, which is less than what most of us spend on a single cup of coffee. But the Journal isn’t my only subscription, and I get nearly as much value from the others for a fraction of the cost.
If I rightly recall, yearly prices had jumped from $49 to $79 to $119 to $149, rounded down, over the next 14 years. In 2009, I paid $119. A year later, the Journal jumped the rate to $155, and I temporarily cancelled but returned within days after receiving a $79/year offer. In late February 2012, WSJ snatched $207.48 from my bank account for the annual payment. I cancelled and received a refund. I took advantage of a three-month Black Friday either in 2014 or 2015, then cancelled.
I told the customer service rep that $87 for another 6 months could keep me a subscriber. Today, I see that the Journal promotes $99 for the same period, presumably a holiday special. But the ecommerce system won’t let me take the discount, not without starting another account. I’d rather walk away.
I told my wife about what happened, and she made an astute observation that I should have: It costs the Journal nothing to keep me but plenty to let go a customer. The newspaper isn’t printed. The digital content already has been generated and production paid for; makes more sense to take my money.
I pay $29 a year for all digital access to the Washington Post and $7.50 a month for the New York Times, which sub I will cancel for dissatisfaction with editorial tone and reporting. I’m under an 8-week free promotion, after calling to cancel in mid-November; when that ends, so does my sub. I started subscribing to the Times, print and later digital, in 2001.
Who deserves my journalism dollars in this era of fake news and aggregation plagiarism? For less than what I will save on the NYT and WSJ: The Guardian, Mother Jones, and Pro Publica. All three operate on varying donation models, although I also receive a magazine from MJ. None erects a paywall, and all three excel at responsible, investigative reporting.
Photo Credit: Thomas Galvez