I went to the Time site a few weeks ago to look up an article I remembered from 1986. (Their coverage of Reagan’s bombing of Libya included a picture and caption so ridiculous that I’m still laughing about them almost twenty years later. I wanted to fisk them, and I couldn’t find them in the U.N.C. back issues, which are missing a few pages.) Time‘s website charged me a very reasonable $1.98 for access, but:
- I was looking for a picture, and the archives do not include pictures. Perhaps not surprising, but it would have been nice to have been told that up front, so I wouln’t waste my $1.98.
- Paying for access to the archives automatically signed me up for a four-week free trial subscription, which I emphatically did not want and turned out to be fairly difficult to cancel. When they e-mailed to ask how I liked my new subscription, I explained to them that I didn’t want it, hadn’t ever wanted it, and asked them to cancel it. Apparently no one reads these surveys, because issues of Time soon began appearing in my mailbox, disappearing immediately afterwards in the nearby dumpster. After three weeks of this, I went to their website to cancel ‘my’ subscription. Since I declined to accept their cookie, they declined to let me in. It took 20+ minutes on the telephone, mostly trying to get through to a human being, to actually cancel, and I’m not yet sure that it worked.
Some interesting conclusions can be drawn from this:
- It’s not surprising that traditional media are losing money: Time insists on sending multiple copies of their magazine even to someone who throws them in the dumpster unread and will never pay a penny for them. And they haven’t even gotten around to charging my credit card the $1.98 I agreed to pay.
- Then again, perhaps they’re not losing money. Are they counting me as part of their circulation (sort of true), or even as a paid subscriber (totally false)? If so, are they counting me for the entire year, or just for the few weeks between pseudo-subscribing and cancellation? Most important, do their circulation auditors know the answers to these questions? Do their advertisers? Are circulations declining even more precipitously than officially admitted?
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