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My beef with the Tribune’s subscription pricing practices

 This is from an item I posted on 8-31-2023 (Picayune Sentinel issue No. 103)

Judging from my email inbox, the plaintiffs in the case first reported this week by Crain’s Chicago Business will have no trouble rounding up witnesses. I’ve been banging on in the Picayune Sentinel on and off for the last two years about the opaque, sneaky and needlessly complicated way in which the Tribune bills its subscribers.

Just last week I reported on how I cut my monthly bill by 60% just by calling to inquire about my rate, which is not available online. Then earlier this week, I got a credit card alert showing the paper was planning to bill me at the old, higher rate. I had to call again to clear that up and get a refund.

Crain’s reported that the class-action lawsuit was filed in Cook County Circuit Court on behalf of Pat Arnold, a print subscriber who lives in northwest suburban McHenry. The complaint alleges that Tribune Publishing “automatically charged subscribers who received print editions of defendant’s newspapers extra for materials already included in the subscribers’ subscriptions and paid itself for the extra charges from the subscription fees already paid by the subscribers, thereby shortening subscribers’ prepaid subscription periods.”

Arnold also alleges that the media company “continuously omitted, concealed and otherwise failed to disclose material facts regarding the miscellaneous materials and defendant’s unfair, deceptive and unlawful acts and practices” and “failing to provide subscribers with itemized billing statements.”

The repeated references to “miscellaneous materials” are a clear reference to the “Premium Issues” the Tribune charges $10 a month for, unless you call twice a year to tell them you don’t want to pay for them.

In billing statements Defendant provided to subscribers, Defendant described the Miscellaneous Materials in a manner designed to deceive subscribers into believing that the Miscellaneous Materials were items separate from subscribers’ subscriptions when, in fact, as Defendant knew, that was not the case and, as alleged more fully below, subscribers would receive the Miscellaneous Materials in the ordinary course of their subscriptions – i.e., at no extra charge. … Defendant omitted, concealed and otherwise failed to disclose, and continues to omit, conceal and otherwise fail to disclose, how subscribers could receive the Miscellaneous Materials without incurring the extra charges imposed by Defendant.

This is true. The postcard the Tribune sends out advising subscribers of their new rates says only “For each Premium Issue, your account balance will be charged an additional fee…” but it does not say, as I have repeatedly reminded Picayune Sentinel subscribers, that the additional fee will be waived for six months if you call customer service and say you don’t want to pay for it.

These “premium issues” are Sunday supplemental inserts such as “Health,” “NYT Travel,” “The Year in Photos,” “Holiday Gift Guide,” “Life Skills” and “Summer Entertaining.”

Here are a few mentions of this issue from earlier issues of the PS: