Who Put These Guys In Charge?

Last March, Time Magazine noticed that, “Over the past few weeks, the U.S. newspaper industry has entered a new period of decline.” Past few weeks? Anyway, Time reported on 10 major metro dailies that are gone or going. Meanwhile, even the New York Times has dumped hundreds of jobs as employment at newspapers keeps reaching new lows.

Obviously, nobody reads newspapers anymore.

Except I do. As do 44 million other Americans every day.

I wrote op-ed columns for the Burlington Free Press back when Dan Costello was Editorial Page Editor. We also subscribed to that paper for years and I read it regularly. We stopped subscribing, though, not because they stopped publishing but rather because they stopped delivering. They kept billing us, though.

That seemed like a poor business model to support.

The Freep certainly wants my business back. Or someone’s. They used the U.S. Postal Service last fall to mail a beautiful 4-color tri-fold on legal size card stock to “R Harper or anyone else more-or-less breathing at” my North Puffin address. The flier offered 52 weeks of Sunday newspapers delivered for just $22. That’s less than they pay the carrier. [Editorial note: that may not be true. It is true that they tack more than $22 on to subscriber bills for motor route delivery.]

But wait! There’s more! Sign up now and get the Thursday and Friday papers as well!

All for just $22.

The promotion worked.

I was in South Puffin when the flier arrived, so I waited until just before Christmas to take them up on it. I mailed them a check a month ago. I didn’t include an email address on the registration form, but they emailed me at my most private address a couple of weeks ago anyway.

Thank you for subscribing to The Burlington Free Press.

You will receive your newspaper 3 days a week. We’re sure you’ll enjoy everything we have to offer.

And they cashed the check.

The Christmas offer I took advantage of expired 12/27/09. I just received a new one in the mail with the same pitch. The new offer mailed this, the first month of 2010, expired 12/27/09, too.

A month has passed. I looked for the paper religiously every Sunday. OK, I skipped 1/3/10 since we weren’t here but I looked on the 10th, the 17th, and again yesterday. Between the first of the year and today, I figure that makes about 11 newspapers. That makes quite a pile of fish wrap. Or fire starting material. I tried the link to my account they sent in the confirmation email. There was no login button anywhere on that page, on the “contact us” page, or even on the front page of burlingtonfreepress.com. I called their 800 number.

“I show that service started on the 21st,” the Customer Service rep said.

Of this month?

“I’ll send a note to the carrier, Mr. Harper,” she promised. “Let me check the details of your order.” She confirmed my street address, phone number, and zip code and asked me to sign up for automatic billing. I declined. When she read off my very private email address, I asked her to remove it from the system.

“I can do that,” she said.

I reminded her that we hadn’t had a roadside newspaper delivery “tube” since the firebombing incident.

“Do you want me to request a tube?” she asked.

No, I think it would be more productive to schedule an air drop down my chimney.

We both hung up. I puttered a bit. And the computer announced, “Sweetheart, you’ve got mail.” The computer has a little bit of a lisp and sounds remarkably like Humphrey Bogart.

Thank you for notifying us that you did not receive delivery of your newspaper on Thu, Jan 21, 2010, Fri, Jan 22, 2010, and Sun, Jan 24, 2010. We have notified your carrier to ensure proper delivery in the future. Your account has been credited for the missed delivery.

The email came to my very private email address, the one that Customer Service assured us is no longer in the system.

A month has passed since I placed the order. I used to wonder why people think newspapers are failing. I haven’t received a paper. I don’t wonder anymore.