Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Getting to the news that is fit to print

Spending portions of the year in different places may seem idyllic, but there are many big and little things to do to close down one household and get another up and running. Being married to an ex-newspaperman means that I have to suspend magazine and newspaper subscriptions in one place and get deliveries to resume in another.

You would think this is easy and seamless given that newspapers are in the business of communications. And you would also be forgiven for thinking that with the declining popularity of the printed word, the papers’ circulation departments would be on the ball.

In a way they have been on the ball, some promoting home delivery on their Web sites and others running circulation campaigns (selling subscriptions) with cars as prizes.

But lots of times things fall between the cracks.

In the USA, the WSJ could not find our subscription details and we had to set up home delivery all over again. The New York Times was a bit confused because we also have a subscription to the IHT which now calls itself the Global Edition of the New York Times.

The South China Morning Post fiddled with its delivery logistics and after that took days to get its act together to resume delivery. Unacceptable for a daily that gets delivered every morning. Hopefully they now have someone who knows more about newspapers than just reading them.

Of the magazines Businessweek is like a giant oil tanker and takes as long to stop or turn! As their mailing labels are prepared three weeks in advance they need three weeks notice to suspend or resume delivery, an age in today’s world.

Some require going online to use their web forms, others can be contacted by email.

The US newspapers usually try to get one to phone without realising there is a whole world outside of America that cannot avail themselves of their 1-800 toll free numbers and may not be in a convenient time zone. But then the USA still has not shed its parochial mentality, not surprising of a country that still measures in feet and inches, weighs in pounds and ounces, fills up in gallons and prints letters in Letter and Legal sizes.

But if booby prizes were awarded, our local giant Straits Times would win hands down.

For all their hype and full colour, full page bluster recently and revamps of their web version (STI), I have found the online ST cumbersome to navigate.

After months of always unsuccessful, intermittent attempts to log-in a certain way I gave up trying and resolved to get that solved.

To do that I had to try and replicate the steps and note down the circumstances which caused this error message to appear.

Finally I got my mind focused on troubleshooting the problem, always the hardest part of getting anywhere with computer related situations whether you call it inertia or fear.

The next hardest part is convincing the tech people you are not just inept or have a vivid imagination or computer phobia.

Anyway, I am happy to say that someone at STI managed to understand my gibberish and fixed the glitch that prevented me from logging in from the ‘outside’ (going to straitstimes.com) as opposed to what I think of as ‘inside’ (from reading an article in their daily newsletter and continuing from there).

However, the thought has since occurred to me that if I had that problem, maybe others have encountered it too. And unlike me they might have decided to call it a day with straitstimes.com.

Coming back to subscriptions, we now have a subscription to the print version (directly with SPH rather than via the vendor, an episode that calls for its own story) and a subscription to the ST online - aka STI. In addition, I also have an ST application on my iPhone – which I rarely accessed so cannot recall if it was free or paid. (Or, perhaps, linked to my ST online account.)

After ST launched their iPad/iPhone app in a blaze of colour in their print edition, I got curious and found that this app is an update to the iPhone app that’s been on my iPhone - and now includes the iPad too.

The catch is that a subscription is soon to be required as access expires August 31, 2011. More annoying, it contains lots of advertisements.

I don’t remember seeing any advertisements before – in the days when I seemed to get ST articles free.

To continue with my Alice in Wonderland experiences with the ST. After my brother got stuck on his Mac (and so did I trying to help him on my laptop) while attempting to subscribe to the ST online version (a month ago),
I grasped the nettle and emailed a friend at the ST.

I did this as a last resort because STI is one of the rare newspapers site which does not provide the Circulation department’s email anywhere obvious and when you call the number on the web site you get into a queue plus a warning that it could be a long time before your call can be attended to – the old “due to a large call volume” claim. Actually, the recorded voice warned of not being able to elicit a response for TWO days!

Long story short, they set my brother up with a subscription (and hopefully they sorted out the error which prevented Apple computers – or is it all makes – from dealing the subscription deal). Or so I thought until Sunday night when he mentioned in passing that it was only a two month subscription, which came as a surprise to me.

On further investigation, I discovered today that annual online subscriptions have been canned and only short term subscriptions  (for online access) are available until the new subscription scheme is rolled out!

The young lady I was speaking to at ST today must have been bemused by my ranting (I told her it wasn’t her that I was grumbling about but the shortsightedness of her management) on the topic of piecemeal subscription plans and not being able to use the web to subscribe or manage one’s account.

At one point I told her I was thoroughly confused and asked if I needed three accounts – one for print, one for ST online and one for the iPhone/iPad app.

Apparently not, but we will have to wait until the new scheme is (ta-dum, drum rolls please) revealed later this month.

What kind of ‘mickey mouse’ newspaper is this that changes subscription plans in fits and starts and not all in one smooth go?

All I can say is that it is a good that there isn’t much competition even we have a free press in Singapore.