Former Jackson County Commissioner Peter Sage took us to task in his blog Sunday with the headline, “Mail Tribune Squanders Credibility.” Sage was fired up that he pays $374 a year for the newspaper, while a friend of his, who had stopped subscribing, paid $244 to renew his subscription.
He later said in an email to me, “you have an entire newspaper with which to try to explain why it is fair and reasonable and best for everyone.”
OK, Peter, we’ll take the bait. We’ve got nothing to hide.
Ever since Rosebud Media LLC bought the Mail Tribune and Ashland Daily Tidings from a large corporation in 2017, we’ve been resurrecting our newspapers from our previous owner’s model of raising prices while cutting staff, pages and customer service.
Our previous owner even began charging our subscribers extra for “premium” publications they hadn’t asked for — magazines that used to come free with the paper — by shortening the length of their subscriptions. When he took over in June, Rosebud Publisher Steve Saslow put a stop to that practice, a tactic so outrageous it spawned a class-action suit in Massachusetts.
Since then, we’ve reinstated dozens of positions across our company, added pages to our daily editions, brought customer service and page design back in-house, and have made a concerted effort to improve delivery. As a result, our subscriptions are rising — something few newspapers can say these days.
We want to bring back subscribers who gave up on us during those dark years. One way to do that is to offer an introductory price for 13 or 26 weeks so they can get to know us again. After that, they’ll see increases incrementally, as longtime subscribers do, mainly because of the skyrocketing cost of newsprint. Believe us, if we could drop everyone’s subscription price to a low introductory offer and still cover our costs, we’d do it.
Our current introductory rate for new subscribers is $2.20 a week with an additional one-time activation fee of $4.95; this gives them unlimited access to our online edition as well as home delivery. Our prices are subject to change because of costs. Sage himself isn’t paying the full rate for a subscription, which is $442 a year.
Customers throughout our subscriber base pay different rates based on when they signed up, what the introductory offer was at the time and what the increases have been since. If someone’s having difficulty paying, our customer service reps help that subscriber take advantage of available offers. We treasure our readers and want to do everything possible to keep them.
We fail to see how these practices are “manipulative and dishonest,” as Sage described them. Using discounts to attract new or return customers — and keep the ones we’ve got — is a common practice. Has he signed up for internet or phone service lately? Seen Facebook ads for the New York Times or New Yorker magazine that offer incredibly low rates for a limited time? Has he not called a credit card company to get a better rate?
Perhaps we need to spell it out better for people like Sage, who jump to conclusions. We’re still in the process of transitioning to our own systems, and we’ll work on making ourselves more clear in our invoices once our transition is complete.
Sage is also incorrect when he implies newspapers rely more heavily on subscriptions than advertising. Not so. Advertising continues to be our biggest revenue generator, and our advertisers would beg to differ with the poorly informed Sage that their ads don’t draw customers.
What bothers me most about Sage’s blog is that he questions our journalistic integrity based on a marketing plan used by such industry stalwarts as the New York Times. Our journalists are trained to report with balance, fairness and accuracy. If we make a mistake, we correct it. If someone asks why we did something, I’ll answer right here in this column.
We consistently win awards for our reporting and writing; we’re proud of being a newspaper people can trust and that won’t cower under attacks like those by Sage, who in an email claimed to me, “I want the Trib to thrive.” Such a claim rings hollow amidst his self-righteous indignation over something he knows nothing about — and didn’t bother to ask us before he wrote his blog.
I also take exception to Sage’s characterization of our readers as suffering from “inertia and habit of mind” because they trust our coverage. We know our readers are smarter and more discerning than that, and they should be offended by his uninformed stereotyping.
We appreciate your subscription, Peter, but after reading your blog and your misleading headline, we have to ask: Just who’s being manipulative here?
Reach Editor Cathy Noah at 541-776-4464 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.