THE BLOG

Washington Post Raises Price Surreptitiously

04/24/2014 01:46 pm ET | Updated Jun 24, 2014

The cost of the Washington Post goes up on a regular basis and unfortunately the quality of the paper hasn't kept pace. Now they have found a way to increase the price even more and done so in a way in which most people aren't aware they are actually paying more.

For regular home or office delivery subscribers to the Post, and I have been one since 1978, it has always been possible to stop it when you were away on vacation or for some other reason. Then those days you didn't receive it were credited to your account and the subscription extended by those days. If you aren't aware, as most aren't, those days are over. Today on the days the Post doesn't deliver your paper you are still charged for it.

The price of a 24-week daily and Sunday subscription went from $176.39 if you ordered that in November 2013 to $191.62 when you received a bill in April 2014. There is also no longer an option on the bill to pay for longer periods of time and it must be assumed that is because they plan on increasing the cost regularly.

But what was done surreptitiously is that now when you stopped your paper you no longer receive a credit to your account. Your bill has the unclear statement, "Going away? Stop your delivery. While you are away your subscription will continue." To clarify for everyone, that means you are paying for the papers you don't get.

I found that out when reviewing my recent bill and called to ask why my subscription hadn't been extended a week for a stop I requested in February. The automated call to stop the paper was the same as it had always been. It confirmed the dates the paper was to be stopped and started and asked if I wanted to donate those papers to the schools. Since my response was no the assumption was my account would be credited. Instead I was informed that the policy had been changed last July and that was no longer the case. The papers used in the schools no longer had anything to do with my receiving papers or not. I was informed that for credit in the future they would mark my account and when I stopped the paper if I actually spoke to a person instead of using the automated phone line that could be arranged. Guess that was to make me feel special.

At that point I left a phone message for Gregg Fernandes, Vice President for Distribution and Customer Care for the Post. He returned my call within 24 hours and we had a very pleasant conversation. After discussion he agreed that the bills weren't very clear on this issue and that the Post would make changes in future bills sent to customers and clearly state the new policy which he said went into effect August of 2013. He thought most people knew about it but I suggested to him that wasn't the case and told him that just that morning a friend who writes for and works with the Post editorial board said he wasn't aware of it. Fernandes also agreed that the message on the automated phone line was wrong and needed to be changed. A little late for a policy that according to him had gone into effect over six months ago. His explanation for the change in policy is that the Post assumed that since subscribers got access to the online paper they could keep charging even for papers you didn't receive.

It would seem based on the current circulation numbers at the Post, they would be more considerate of the customers they still have. James Greiff in a Bloomberg story reports daily circulation at the Post over the past three years has dropped 14 percent and Sunday circulation by 11 percent. Clearly the newspaper has been hemorrhaging money. Greiff says, "Amazon.com Inc. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Bezos had to be looking at something other than the numbers attached to the Washington Post Co. newspaper business, which he agreed to buy today for $250 million."

My thoughts are that Bezos believes he can make the Post a viable paper again and one way to do that is improve the online paper. He has a lot of work ahead of him. Simple things like stock market numbers on the homepage of the Post need improvement. On the homepage of the New York Times stock market numbers are simple to read. They have the current level of the S&P 500, Dow and Nasdaq. Then the actual current change in each and the percentage change that equals for the moment. The Post simply gives you the percentage change, up or down, for each which does you no good unless you remember where the market ended the day before. Something so simple to fix yet they can't get it right.

They have found a way to surreptitiously charge subscribers more for the paper. That doesn't appear to be the best way to increase circulation or even keep the subscribers they have