Digital disappointment

    If you subscribe to a newspaper, do you think you should have to pay to access the online version? The new owners of the Inquirer and Daily News do.

    You may have noticed if you read Philly.com that if you click the tabs at the top for the Inquirer or Daily News, you now open a portal to the new digital version of each paper, which was free for a while on a trial basis, but which now costs $2.99 a week.

    When I clicked on the digital Daily News tab a couple Saturdays ago and it asked me to sign up for a subscription, I looked for the button where home subscribers could sign up for free.

    There wasn’t one.

    I wrote an e-mail to a customer service address I found, asking if they were serious about this. Did they really expect those of us who’ve remained loyal subscribers though the staff cuts and price hikes to pay for the digital version?

    It took six days for customer service to write back that yes, the digital Inquirer costs extra (I’d asked about the Daily News, but the answer was the same).

    The person who responded said there are attractive combined rates, as I would see in the attachment to her e-mail.

    There was no attachment.

    I called the customer service number on the e-mail at 3:50 last Friday, and the center was closed. It’s only open 9 to 1, no doubt because it was originally set up to handle home delivery complaints.

    I did manage to learn more. Inquirer home subscribers can get the digital version for only 99 cents more a week. But because the computer system somehow won’t accommodate it, they don’t have a combined rate for the Daily News.

    So if you’re a Daily News home subscriber, you’ll pay three times what your neighbor pays for the digital Inquirer.

    And I love this: the website lists four different prices for the digital versions – an 8 week rate, a 13 week rate, a 26 week rate, and a 52 week rate. Do the math, and they’re all $2.99 a week.

    Friends, we gotta do better than this.

    I worked for nearly 20 years at the Daily News, and I have great affection for both papers. I’m all for experimenting – trying paywalls, digital versions that look like the real paper, apps for mobile devices, whatever.

    But if you roll out something before you’re ready to take care of customers, you can do as much harm as good.

    And I still don’t understand the logic of not throwing the digital version in with your home subscription.

                                                                          UPDATE

    After finishing this rant, company spokesman Mark Block finally got back to me, forcing me to add some some balance to this post, and spoiling the satisfying purity of the rant. But fair’s fair.

    First, Block pointed out that home subscribers of both papers can still get all the content for free on Philly.com. The digital versions of the papers, he said, were created in response to demand for newspaper-like products appearing on a number of devices (the Inky and Daily News digitals apparently look very cool on an IPad). He said it costs the company money to create the product every day, and they simply can’t afford to give it away, even to home subscribers of the paper product.

    Customer service could be better. Block said I was given the wrong information when I was told there was no discount to home subscribers who want the digital Daily News (I’m certain this was the message – I still have the e-mail). Block couldn’t say what the price would be, though he thought it would be between 90 cents and a dollar a week. He said I should be able to get the price online. I tried while he was on the phone, but couldn’t get the information because it asked for my password, which he said was the password I got as a home subscriber. I didn’t know my password and couldn’t get it because, as we’ve learned, the customer service center is open from 9 to 1. I’ll try later,and Block said he would follow up and make sure the customer service reps had the right information for Daily News subscribers.

    As I said, it’s great these folks are experimenting, and you have to expect some mistakes – I know we’ve had some glitches launching Newsworks. I just hope for the sake of the these two great papers and all my friends who still work there that these folks know what they’re doing.

    I’ll be back.

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