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. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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Anonymous said...

If the customer has no intention of subscribing, he should avoid the free subscription. Pretty clear. The newspaper is offering something assuming the customer might like it. So they sacrifice. If the customer has no intention of buying, it is immoral to do so.
Pretty simple,
Alan Owseichik
Greenfield, Ma.

Carroll Straus said...

The offer is advertising. A tax deductible cost of doing business. Pretty simple.

Minesh Khashu said...


The interesting thing for me is how DH's compassion and world view influences the generation of a sense of guilt.


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