If you've read a couple of my past blog posts on the subject, you know that I'm no fan of the way The Sun has structured its paywall (primarily, in that it charges print subscribers an additional fee for digital access).
Well, as I said I might do in one of those posts, I went ahead and cancelled my home delivery subscription. I figured, if I'm going to pay for the content one way or the other, I'll pay the cheaper way, the way that gives me full access to all articles, plus blogs, etc., in a format that's most convenient to me. I would've been happy to hold onto my home delivery—as I've done with The New York Times—if the digital access was included in my subscription, but, alas, it wasn't. I called and cancelled about a month ago.
Then, this weekend the Saturday Sun was delivered. I got an email the same day that said, "Welcome back to The Baltimore Sun! We appreciate the opportunity to resume service to your home." The Sunday paper came as well, and, this morning, the Monday. I called customer service and was told that, after canceling, I had a 22-cent credit on my account and, as a result, The Sun was going to give me the Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday newspapers for one year at no additional charge (still no explanation of why the Monday paper was delivered). I clarified several times that I would not be billed, even after the year was over, and it was confirmed. When the year was up, I was told, I would get a letter asking if I wanted to continue service. I thanked the rep and hung up. Twenty-two cents for a year of delivery—now that's a deal!
I came to work and discussed what happened with my colleagues. Managing editor Max Weiss reported that she cancelled her subscription two months ago and that the paper is still being delivered regularly, something she reports about frequently on her Twitter feed, under the hash tag #occupymylawn (alas, the tag was a lot more topical two months ago...)
It's no secret that The Sun, like many publications, earns the bulk of its revenue from advertising, and that advertising rates are set based on the paper's circulation. As such, it's often better for them, bottom-line-wise, to give away a certain number of subscriptions for free to keep the circulation above a certain number. The Sun's daily circulation was down to 170,510 as of this past September, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation (314,253 for the Sunday paper), down about 39% from 277,947 in 2004 (the Sunday was down about 33% from 470,453). Giving out yearly subscriptions for 22 cents and continuing to fling free papers long after subscribers have cancelled are two ways to artificially inflate those numbers in the short term. But if The Sun is interested in long-term success, its editors would do well to drop the additional charges for home subscribers and, instead, find ways to integrate their print, web, and mobile delivery streams. They could start by paying attention to the New York Times' strategy.