Sunday, February 22, 2015
Don't go on a guilt trip over free-trial offer
D.H., a reader in Sacramento, Calif.,writes that he prefers a good portion of his leisure reading in printed form. To accommodate his preference, he subscribes to several magazines, his local newspaper and the Sunday edition of a well-known national newspaper.
While D.H. enjoys reading these publications and would like to see all of them continue to thrive in printed form, a decision he made recently leaves him wondering if he did the right thing.
A few times a year, the national newspaper he reads offers to send him the daily newspaper as well at no cost for a specific period of time. His only obligation to keep from being charged for both daily and Sunday subscriptions is to contact the newspaper at the end of the trial to cancel any additional days.
D.H. has taken advantage of these offers several times, keeping careful track of when he needs to cancel the daily newspaper to avoid being charged for it.
"The extra days are a nice treat," he writes, "but I have no intention of keeping that daily part of the subscription going."
Even though the offer is presented without strings, D.H. writes that "knowing that the newspaper industry is in dire straits makes me wonder whether it's ethical to continue taking the (free) offer."
D.H. does have a point that newspaper revenues have declined precipitously over the past decade. In its annual "The State of the News Media" report, The Pew Research Center's findings suggest that while newspaper circulation has remained stable over the past several years, the revenue from advertising has dropped dramatically. As classified and display ads have migrated to other venues -- especially the digital media platforms D.H. doesn't care to read -- newspapers are challenged to match the profits they once achieved.
However, it's not readers like D.H. choosing to convert their free daily trials into paid subscriptions that will dramatically turn the newspaper industry around, although newspaper companies always love having a new paid subscriber in the fold. (Selfishly, as someone who writes for newspapers, I would like to see readers pay for both print and online subscriptions as often as possible.)
In any case, is it right for D.H. to sign on for a free trial of the daily edition of his newspaper when there's no chance he'll pay for it after the trial? He should feel no guilt.
The newspaper made the offer with no strings attached. If D.H. wants to avail himself of the free papers, that's up to him. He might view it as a reward for being a loyal Sunday customer, even if that's not the newspaper's intention.
The right thing for the newspaper to do is make the terms of the free trial clear, and for D.H. to act in good faith if he signs on. Each of them has done so, so D.H. can read on with a clear conscience.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
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