It was a chill, dreary first day of spring. We’d just sat down for a nice, hot bowl of soup when the telephone rang. Caller ID said it came from the local area code, so I got up to answer its summons.
A very pleasant woman — her voice sounded half-familiar — said she had good news about our local newspaper. It’s full of great new features, she said, and she wanted to be sure I could enjoy them all … wanted that so much, in fact, that she would offer us 80 percent off the regular price.
What a deal! “How nice of you,” I told her. “Sold! We read it every morning.”
Surprised silence. “Really?” Pause. “Are you a subscriber?”
“Of course,” I told her, bragging just a little. “We subscribed on the day we moved to Moorhead. That was 31 years ago this June. Now, how do we get our discount?”
More silence. Then: “This is only for new subscribers.” And she hung up.
OK, maybe I shouldn’t have showed off about being a reader. But I’m not ashamed, doggone it. Not only that — by now, we’ve paid something like 119 consecutive quarterly bills, which I thought she’d find kind of nice.
And we don’t complain about it, either. Reading The Forum is as much a required part of our mornings as toothpaste, coffee and the CBS early news, and we even consider it a bargain.
Although an ever-growing proportion of our friends and neighbors have severed their ties with print and drifted to free pickings on the Web, the couple who live in our house still believe in the traditional news media. Supporting our local newspaper is just part of being a grown-up. Someone, after all, must invest so that reporters can report and editors can edit and an advertising hotshot can sell the daily news as a wrapper for 5 pounds of full-color sale inserts on Thanksgiving.
Subscription campaigns like this one rankle, though. In pursuit of the elusive younger demographic, this indiscriminate flinging of discounts seems a bit counterproductive. I’d love to see how the pluses and minuses balance. On the one hand: tantalizing masses who are already pretty sure they don’t want your product … but might accept it for next to nothing. On the other: Your faithful long-time subscribers who suddenly realize they’re being overcharged.
This annoying practice isn’t limited to newspapers, of course, as technology reworks the whole communication landscape. Cable television services are absolutely notorious. Telephone companies, landlocked or wireless, get down on their knees and beg. Magazines call with once-in-a-lifetime trial offers, then call back to settle for even less.
Yes, I know: All of the traditional media, from ink-on-paper to television, are in trouble and clearly frantic to grow their fast-eroding bases. Their desperation is thick as static. But in every case, if you’re a current customer — in other words, someone who’s already helping to pay their salaries — you’re out of luck. Without so much as “have a nice day,” the telemarketer is off to work the next blind number in the autodialer, back to the quixotic hunt for a virgin prospect who qualifies for his deal … and might actually want it.
My mother had a wise little couplet that seems apt: “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other gold.”
Don’t treat your gold like any old patch of rust. If you can’t say thank you, at least check your doggone prospect list against your subscriber database before you dial testy current customers. It may take a minute or two, but it can’t be all that difficult, even if it’s now akin to sifting the haystack to shake out the prickly needles hidden here and there.
And before you interrupt our next dinner, here’s a hot tip from an old hand: “Cold calling” was never intended to refer to the meal I just put on the table.