By John Gruber
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At some point a month or two ago (or maybe six months ago, or six days ago — who the hell knows in COVID time), The New York Times started pestering me with a bottom-of-the-page dickbar just about every damn time I visit their website. Which is dozens of times per day.
It’s a big ugly yellow dickbar — screenshots from mobile and a larger screen — that covers up a significant portion of whatever article I’m trying to read. The text of the dickbar reads: “Keep the people you care about informed. Refer someone to our special rate of $1 a week.”
I’m well aware that The New York Times is far from perfect, but on the whole the Times is an astonishingly good publication, home to a remarkable (and growing) number of the best writers and reporters in the world, and a good value even at a premium price. I pay $25 every 4 weeks for my digital Times subscription, and have been a satisfied paying subscriber since 2011. My three previous posts on Daring Fireball today, in fact, were all links to articles at the Times. As someone whose professional work is in large part linking to good stories elsewhere, I greatly appreciate that despite using a paywall to encourage non-subscribers to subscribe, the Times paywall policy is — compared to their peers — quite generous for non-subscribers.
In short, I enjoy and appreciate The Times. And after paying over $300 a year for nearly a decade, and having read the Times on a near-daily basis for my entire adult life, I feel I qualify as a good customer.
And they repay me by deliberately annoying me several times a day, every day, when I attempt to read the product I’m paying them for. How could one not find this outrageously annoying?
Imagine frequenting a restaurant whose food you love. You’re friendly with the staff, easy to please, and tip well. You’ve become, and enjoy being, a regular. After years of good service, suddenly, upon being sat at your table, your waiter greets you by asking if you’d like to take a card to give to a friend offering them a discount at the restaurant. You say no thanks. (The discount offer on the card is only for new customers — you, the regular, do not qualify and whether you take the card or not must pay full price for all items on the menu.) When the waiter arrives with your appetizers, before giving you your food, he asks you again if you’d like to take a referral card for a friend or perhaps family member. You decline again. Same thing with your entrees. And again with your dessert or after-dinner drinks. And then it just starts all over again the next time you visit the restaurant.
This analogy only goes so far. No sane restaurant would ever do this. If they did do it, I’d tell the waiter to stop asking after the second ask, using polite words but with a tone of voice that made clear I found it rather insulting to need to decline this annoyance a second time. If it happened a third time, I’d ask for a manager. I am not a speak-to-the-manager type. I honestly can’t remember the last time I asked to speak to a manager in a restaurant regarding a complaint.1 But enough would be enough.
Canceling a New York Times subscription is notoriously difficult. They of course make it very easy to sign up using their website, but to cancel, you literally have to call them on the phone and speak to someone whose job it is to talk you out of it, like trying to cancel your cable TV service. This incessant yellow dickbar has me so seeing red that I’ve looked into canceling, and in doing so, I’ve learned that a new subscription only costs $17 every 4 weeks after the introductory offer ends.
I’m paying $25 every 4 weeks. I might be getting something extra — access to recipes I never cook? crossword puzzles I never play? — but damned if I know what, and damned if I can find a way to just downgrade to the $17 plan they want me to go tell other people to sign up for. That’s over $100 extra per year that they’re just taking from me as a longtime subscriber who — until they angered me with this incessant yellow dickbar — never looked twice at my subscription.
So, yeah, I’d like to speak to a manager. I’d love just one minute with Mr. Sulzberger’s ear.
I do remember once, on vacation, over 10 years ago, but that occasion was, I think anyone would agree, warranted. Our waiter spilled an entire drink on our then-young son’s head. Horrified, he (the waiter) mumbled an apology, but just sort of scampered away and never came back to our table. He just ghosted on us. So I actually think we were going to get to speak with a manager whether we asked to or not. ↩︎