Archive for the 'Opinion' Category

October 9th, 2006

The price of a Wired gift subscription

I have subscribed to Wired Magazine continuously since 1995 (it was first published in 1993). During that time, I’ve seen the cost of subscriptions rise and fall, and I’ve gladly and unflinchingly paid whatever it cost (even back when I was living in Canada and international delivery was extra). It’s a fine magazine, and I’m happy to give Condé Nast my money for it.

Wired gift renewal noticeA couple of years ago, I decided to share the love by buying a relative a gift subscription. Of course, that also means each year I get a reminder to renew the gift subscription. This year, I’ve received (so far) three such reminders by postal mail (the first in August and the most recent a couple of days ago), plus one reminder by email (arrived last week). All of them have said exactly the same thing: I’m being offered a “special” rate of $12 to renew the gift subscription.

In the postal version (click thumbnail to read), it says:

Special Gift Rate: only $1 an issue


Lock in your $1-per-issue gift rate now


Renew…at the lowest gift renewal rate—just $1 an issue

In the email version, it says:

…renew…before the holidays at a special holiday rate.

When I click the link, it takes me to a Web page that says “Renew your gifts now! All gifts only $12.”

Now here’s the thing. Regular subscriptions to Wired cost $10. That’s what their Web site says, and it’s also what’s on all the little cards that fall out of the magazine when I open it. Furthermore, the same site says that gift subscriptions also cost $10. And yet, renewing a gift subscription somehow costs 20% more. The “special holiday rate” is higher than the normal rate!

How is it that a new subscription (or a new gift subscription) costs one price, but renewing a gift subscription costs more? In my opinion, this is not merely wrong but downright slimy: taking advantage of people who are presumably Wired’s best and most loyal customers (those who buy subscriptions for other people) by expecting them to pay more for renewing subscriptions, when they could buy new gift subscriptions for the same people at a lower price!

Let me be clear: I’m not saying $12 is too much for Wired. Honestly, it would be a bargain at $24. And all things being equal, $2 is a pretty trivial amount of money to quibble over. But that’s just what infuriates me: Condé Nast knows that a $2 delta is too small for anyone to waste their time complaining about, and that by sliding that in, they can earn a few easy bucks. (To add insult to injury, the notices generously offer to let me renew my own Wired subscription at the same “special” rate!)

So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to return one of the renewal notices in its postage-paid envelope with a check for $10, a copy of this blog post, and a short, polite letter saying that I object to this practice and ask that they quit charging more for gift subscription renewals than for any other subscription. I’ll also reply to the email with basically the same letter and this URL. We’ll see what happens—and I’ll update this page if I learn anything interesting.

My educated guess: they’ll renew the gift subscription for $10 without saying anything further, and next year, I’ll once again get a series of $12 renewal notices.

Update #1 (10/11/2006): I received the following form-letter reply to my email message:

Our basic rate for one year is $24.00.

Thank you for contacting us concerning a lower subscription price that you have recently seen. We have many different offers to attract new subscribers. These offers can also be available to you. Please respond with your special offer information and we will be happy to enter your subscription.

If you should need further assistance, please be sure to include all previous e-mail correspondence.

Thank you for subscribing to Wired.


[name redacted]

Yes, of course…I understand all that. But I object to it. Everyone knows (don’t they?) that it’s cheaper to keep a customer than to get a new customer. People who willingly pay for your product again and again are among a company’s most valuable assets. You do not want to make these people unhappy. And charging them more for your product than you charge people with whom you have no business relationship is an unwise tactic. I realize, too, that Condé Nast is hardly the only company doing this—banks, for example, are notorious for this kind of thing. I’m arguing that companies would actually benefit themselves financially by considering their customers’ feelings. An odd concept, I know.

The form letter as much as said that they’ll honor a lower price if someone complains. Why should I have to complain, though? Why not simply offer repeat customers the same rate as new customers? You’ll lose a few (very few) dollars now, but you’ll gain goodwill—and that pays significant dividends later on. It’s also good karma.

Update #2 (10/13/2006): In reply to my response to the last email message:

Your paid renewal has not yet been received.

Please accept our sincere apologies concerning the various subscription rates. As an existing subscriber, you may always take advantage of any better offer you may see directly from Wired.

Your comments are being forwarded on to our home office for consideration.

If you should need further assistance, please be sure to include all previous e-mail correspondence.

Thank you for subscribing to Wired.

Not to beat a dead horse, but if subscribers may always take advantage of any better offer, isn’t it misleading not to make them the best offer in the first place?

Update #3 (11/01/2006): Just as I predicted, I received the standard thank-you notice by mail, confirming that my gift subscription order has been placed (“Total Due: PAID”). Inside the envelope was a gift postcard I can send to the recipient (which seems sort of silly, considering that it’s a renewal). But this was a computer-generated mailing, and no personal reply to my letter was included. We’ll see what happens next year when the subscription is up for renewal again, but my crystal ball tells me it will be the same thing.

Update #4 (11/02/2006): I guess I spoke too soon. A day after receiving my “thank-you” notice, I got yet another “don’t forget to renew your gift subscription” reminder in the mail—my fourth or fifth now, I’ve lost track. Their timing is impeccable.

November 18th, 2004

Hands-Free Phones

I get annoyed as everyone else at people who use cell phones inappropriately—you know, during movies, while driving, or what-have-you. But lately I’ve been noticing an increase in one particular inappropriate use that baffles me. Yesterday, I got stuck in a waiting room for some time with a guy who simply could not bear to spend one minute in silence. He made and received calls continuously for at least a half hour, cutting deals, making plans, and basically involving everyone else present in the running of his business. He spoke that strange dialect MBAnglish on his phone, which in itself is quite annoying. But what truly baffled me was that because of the “hands-free” headset he was wearing, he had to use both of his hands to talk on his phone.

Here’s the picture: There’s an earbud in your ear connected by a thin cable to your phone. Inline, about six inches away from the earbud, is the microphone. Gravity and human anatomy being what they are, this microphone, left to its own devices, will hang inconveniently far from the wearer’s mouth. So everyone I’ve ever seen using one of these contraptions holds the microphone up to their mouths with one hand, while carrying the phone in the other. Thus: the two-handed “hands-free” phone.

Somehow, no one seems to notice the irony in this, the fact that you could simply ditch the headset and in so doing free up at least one of your hands. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people using these devices in this way, and I just don’t get it. If your hands aren’t free, then it’s not “hands-free.” But it seems that in some bizarre way, the users of these devices are convinced that they make it easier to talk on the phone, when in fact they make it harder.

Surely some of the blame rests with manufacturers of “hands-free” headsets, who should realize that the mouth is not located on the side of the neck. But people keep buying the things, so there’s little incentive to stop making them. On the other hand, a good bit of the blame rests with users, who would probably (in some cases at least) be pleasantly surprised to discover that the little microphone will actually pick up their voice just fine even if it’s not right in front of their mouth.

There are, of course, any number of headset designs that position the microphone closer to the mouth, many of which are even wireless. And you can set up most modern phones for voice dialing, enabling your cell phone to remain safely tucked in your pocket the whole time. Your hands could be free, they really could. But you have to take the first step. Let…go…of…the…microphone.