5 On Your Side

Premium papers, online access count against N&O subscription costs

Posted April 8, 2014 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated April 8, 2014 7:10 p.m. EDT

Some customers of Raleigh's News & Observer complained to 5 On Your Side that they didn't get what they paid for in subscribing to the newspaper.

John Tupman, a home delivery subscriber for nearly 18 years, said he was so frustrated with a recent billing discrepancy that he considered canceling.

"They keep it up and I'm just going to drop it," he said.

On Dec. 8, Tupman paid for his standard 13-week subscription. He thought he'd be due to renew on March 9. But his bill set his renewal date at March 1 – 8 days short of his 13 weeks.

The newspaper charges extra for "premium content days," special editions like Thanksgiving and President's Day. Those individual newspapers cost more and that cost is deducted from the total a subscriber has paid. When the funds run out, the newspaper moves up the expiration date.

"I think it's unfair," Tupman said.

Other customers also complained to 5 On Your Side about the date issue and the fact that the newspaper automatically charges subscribers for "plus" –access to online and mobile content. 

Even customers who never sign up for "plus" accounts are automatically enrolled. One subscriber saw that cost her $55 more a year.

Jim Puryear, vice president of circulation at the N&O, said customers who don't want "plus" can opt out.

Asked why the newspaper didn't allow customers to opt in, Puryear said, "We feel like this is a better process."

He said the premium content and plus charges are spelled out on the back of every bill.

"I feel like we do an adequate job of being transparent with our premium day charges with our bill," he said.

But customers like John Tupman say the additional charges could be more clear.

"If they'd just be honest in what they're charging," he said. "Just tell me for sure what it is."

Tupman and others also commented on the lighter shade of gray text used where the pricing policy is spelled out. Puryear says it prevents text from bleeding through.

Puryear said he would contact customers who reached out to 5 On Your Side. It wasn't until after an email reminder on Tuesday that he made those contacts.