Twice in recent months, the Post has made a major change with no public announcement or explanation to readers ahead of time.
In January, it was a 25-cent increase in the cover price, from 75 cents to $1, that just suddenly appeared one day. (Home subscribers got a price increase too, although it was noted in the mailed bills.)
Then last week, The Post switched its free “Today’s Paper” online feature — where you could see and read digitized versions of the daily printed newspaper pages — to a fee-based system. A third party, NewspaperDirect.com, which distributes many print versions of publications electronically, operates the “e-Replica” setup.
Actually, NewspaperDirect has done this for The Post for about six years, for a fee, and The Post says it didn’t make sense to have two versions, one free and one paid.
Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti explained it this way: “A good number of readers enjoy getting The Post's newspaper format electronically, and instead of having two similar products (e-replica and Today's Paper) serving those readers, we chose to have one: the e-replica.
“This enables us to have a consistent model for the newspaper: it is a subscription product whether it lands on your doorstep or you pull up the PDF on your computer.”
Lots of people have told me they like to read The Post on a computer but formatted as a newspaper. They may have moved away, or are traveling, or just like to scan a paper page-by-page in the old-fashioned way, instead of hunting for a specific article on the Web site.
Now they’ll have to pay for it. It’s a little tiny opening of a door to a pay wall for an electronic version of the printed Post.
Now, I understand and support that The Post needs more revenue. No argument here.
But gee willikers: Is it so hard to announce such a change publicly, to explain it thoroughly for readers and give them, say, a week or so advance notice before you do it? It doesn’t seem that much to ask, really.
Readers wrote to me saying exactly that:
“I'm totally confused,” wrote one reader. “Are you charging for the print version of the paper on the Web now? Even for subscribers like me? I sign on this morning and there's this new thing with no explanation whatsoever, at least in a place where I can find it. . . . I can’t recall a more incompetent attempt to communicate — or not communicate — with customers.”
Actually if you’re a seven-day print subscriber, you do get e-Replica for free. You’ll have to have your subscription account number handy when you register online, but you do get it for free. If you’re a Sunday-only subscriber, you get the Sunday e-Replica for free, but not the rest of the week. Full pricing information is at the bottom of this blog post.
You’ll be taken to e-Replica when you click on the “Today’s Paper” link at the top of any washingtonpost.com Web page. You will still be able to get the current day’s paper on the Web site for free, but you can’t go through back issues without paying.
Some readers said the e-Replica technology is harder to use than the Today’s Paper feature. Readers also said that, for older readers, who liked Today’s Paper, it’s practically forcing them to read the Web site instead.
“With e-Replica, the Post has gone from bad to horrible in the matter of providing an online print edition,” said an Alexandria reader in an e-mail. “The crux of the problem is the disconnect between the interested audience and the technology. The interested audience is, I strongly suspect, older readers who grew up with the print edition and want something similarly organized and simple to access. But the technology requires myriad decisions and options regarding a plethora of variables. And often the choices do not work...
“As an oldster and thus a member of the potentially interested audience, I'm giving up. When I don't have access to my print edition because of travel or other commitments, I will go to the online Web site, pretend I'm not 69 years old, and randomly wander from topic to topic. I won't use e-Replica. It is far too frustrating. Maybe that has been the Post's strategy all along: make accessing the online print edition so complex that old people are dragged kicking and screaming into the digital age.”
So here are the details, according to Coratti:
Home-delivery subscribers get free access to the e-Replica version that corresponds to their subscription: Those who subscribe seven days a week get e-Replica access all week long for free; Sunday subscribers get access to the Sunday version; and so on. Sunday and daily subscribers can upgrade to seven-day e-Replica access for 50 percent off, paying $4.98 per month.
Here are the prices for each time period. The longer you sign up for, the less expensive it becomes:
* 4-week Subscription (with automatic renewal by credit card) $9.95
* Quarterly Subscription (auto-renewed) $27.00
* Semiannual Subscription (auto-renewed) $52.00
* Annual Subscription (auto-renewed) $99.50
If you have any comments or concerns about e-Replica, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.