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Check your bill – the Gainesville Sun’s “monthly” subscription fee is not monthly

OPINION

BY JENNIFER CABRERA /NOVEMBER 4, 2019

A month or so ago, I saw a Nextdoor post from a man who complained that the Gainesville Sun was charging him the “monthly” fee every 3 weeks. So I checked my bill, and sure enough – they’ve been charging me $40.66 every 3 weeks. When I looked at the history of my payments on the Sun’s site, in between the “monthly” payments are periodic adjustments of $5, which went up to $7 in May and $8.50 in August.

I called the Gainesville Sun (well, the representative said she was from the Lakeland Ledger and Ocala Star-Banner), and I was told that these extra charges are for the Premium Editions – magazines, etc. I told her I never asked for those, and she said they’re included with the subscription. Apparently my definition of “included” is different from the Gainesville Sun’s.

I checked the letters I received from the Sun in March and October.

The March letter said my “monthly” fee was going up to $35.10, but after I “renewed” (I’ve had a continuous subscription since 1994), I was billed $25.78 twice in March (10 days apart), then billed $40.66 every 3 weeks. At the time I called to renew, they said they could give me a promotional rate (I forget the amount, but it was around $22 – maybe that’s where the $25.78 came from); I asked what the regular rate would be after the promotional period, but they said they didn’t have that information.

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The March letter says, “As a subscriber you receive more than just a newspaper… you also receive many other benefits such as those listed below… Periodic Premium Editions… Because of the high value of the content in these publications, there will be an additional charge for each Premium Edition that will accelerate the expiration of your subscription.” The fine print says “The advertised price does not include additional charge of up to $5 for each premium editions.”

The October letter had similar wording except that the new “monthly” fee is $43.77 and the premium editions can be “up to $9” each.

Here is the wording from the most recent letter: “As an illustrative example, if you select a subscription of up to 12 weeks at a cost of $48.00, and two premium editions at $2.00 each are published and delivered to you during that subscription period, your subscription will be shortened by 1 week because the weekly cost of the subscription is $4.00 per week and the premium edition charges total $4.00.” The implication is that the subscription could be shortened by 1 week in 12, for an extra $4.00 every 3 months. The reality is that subscribers can be charged up to $18.00 extra every month (the letter says they can publish “no more than 2” premium editions each month, and the current rate is “up to” $9 each). 

Obviously, it’s my fault that I didn’t read the letter carefully, but I suspect I’m not alone. Even if I had, I wouldn’t have expected that these extra fees would lead to the “monthly” fee being charged every 3 weeks. But I have paid an average of $53.83/month to the Gainesville Sun for the past 7 months. When a business tells me “Your new monthly payment will be $35.10,” as they did in March, I expect that (plus sales tax) to be the case.

Charging the agreed-upon amount more often is a particularly stealthy way to charge more money. If they were actually charging $53/month, I would have noticed that more quickly. But as long as the charges were for expected amounts, I didn’t look closely at how often they appeared.

The dishonesty caused me to cancel my subscription. I will almost certainly purchase a digital subscription because I value the Sun’s local news and sports coverage, but that $60/year is not going to keep their newsroom afloat. I would probably have kept paying them $40/month (with periodic small increases) forever, but their “stealth” billing has lost them almost $600/year. 

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  • It’s about time after a couple of centuries that the newspaper business is in a free fall and finally getting its comeuppance. I caught them charging me every three weeks until I called and said to stop. Don’t let the lying MFs get away with it.

  • I discovered the same thing two weeks ago. I have no doubt this is legal since what they are doing is in the fine print, but in my opinion, it is incredibly deceptive. The only charge hitting my credit card is my “monthly fee.” Had the “premium editions” been a charge to my credit card, I would have noticed. Having the expiration date whittled away in 22 to 24 small increments over the course of the year makes it seem that they are trying to sneak that under the radar. I checked my account and found that, over the course of one year, they had clawed back 164 days from my subscription. In other words, I received 55% of what I thought I was paying for. It seems a little ironic that the catalyst for me to go back and check my billing history was a letter from The Sun notifying me that my subscription price was going up 74% to $50.74. After looking at my account history, I found that the $50.74 was actually 124% more than I was paying a year ago. And then I saw the impact of those “premium editions.”

    I know the newspaper is brutally difficult and the margins are mighty thin. I also believe a local newspaper is a critically important part of our democracy. But I think The Sun shot themselves in the foot squandering our trust.

  • Excellent reporting on this plan by the news group that owns the Sun to scam subscription holders into paying more for less. I don’t think I could wrap a Mullet in the Monday edition. Yet I too like certain parts and I’m old fashion in getting my paper and reading it in the morning. I started at the age of 8 and have done so for 60 years.

    And I know that we need to reduce the consumption of trees and use less paper. Jennifer is correct in terminating paper and going digital. But at some point, that cost will increase as well, and their are environmental costs of servers that consume large volumes of utility production.

    The most important aspect in ether case may be what we are presented to read in the political world. Where is the unbiased reporting? Nathan is confirmed very liberal as editor in chief. Have ever read an article in the paper about Biden’s braggadocios control over the Ukrainian President?

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