WSJ vs. Subscribers

I’ve been a Wall Street Journal subscriber since the 1970s. I still am. The paper shows up at my doorstep every day.

I’ve also been a subscriber to the Journal online. It costs extra. I’ve gladly paid it, even though I think the paper makes a mistake by locking its archives behind a paywall. (Sell the news, give away the olds, I say.)

I’d still be glad to pay it, if the Journal made it easy. But they don’t. No paper does, far as I know. In fact very few media make it easy at all to give them money for their online goods.

As it happens, my Journal online subscription just ran out. To fix matters, the paper’s site prompted me not to renew, but to update my credit card. So I went through the very complicated experience of updating that data, with the form losing most of the data each time I had to fill in a blank missed on the last try. (Why separate house number from street name?) In the midst it wouldn’t take my known password, and I had to have them do the email thing, through which I got to create a new password after clicking on a link in an email sent to me by the WSJ “system.” Even after doing that, and getting the new credit card info in there, and everything seemed to be fine (no more mistakes noticed on the form)… I can’t get in.

Did the payment go through? I have no idea. The credit card, from Chase, also has an impossible website. I don’t even want to go there.

In any case, I can no longer get in. At the top of the login page, it says “Welcome, Doc Searls.” Below that it tells me to log out if I am not myself. And below that it says

Your Current Subscription(s)
None

I can still access my Personal Information, which includes rude questions about my income, the number of people in my organization and how many stock transactions my household made in the past 12 months. Earth to Journal: Readers hate filling out shit like that. Why put readers over a grill like that? Does it really help sales? Please.

Okay, between the last paragraph and this one I somehow got far enough into the site to actually read some stuff. Specifically, this Peggy Noonan piece, and this PJ O’Rourke piece. In the midst of hunting those down, search results that failed said this:

No Information Available

Your subscription does not include access to this service.

If you have any questions please call Customer Service at 800-369-2834 (or 609-514-0870) or contact us by e-mail at  onlinejournal at wsj.com. Representatives are available Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. & Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. (ET). Subscribers outside the United States, click here.

Good gawd.

Why put readers through #$%^& ordeals like these? Not to mention a website that’s already cluttered beyond endurance.

Because it’s always been done this way, they say. “Always” meaning “since 1995.”

Actually, it’s gotten worse in recent years, all the better to drag eyeballs across advertising, and to maximize the time readers spend on the site.

Hell, I’ve been on the WSJ site for the last hour, hating every second of it.

We can do better than this. I say we, because I have no faith at all that the Journal, or any of the papers, will ever fix problems that have been obvious for the duration. The readers are going to have to tell them what to do. And I mean all of them at once. We need one basic way to interact with media and their systems for accepting payments. Not as many different ways as there are media, all of them bad.

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10 comments

  1. VeliciaL’s avatar

    Don’t we have a system like this with PayPal? All I do is put in my password, click through a couple confirmation pages, and I’m done. Doesn’t matter if I’m bidding on eBay or buying from NewEgg.

  2. gregorylent’s avatar

    think anything will change?

    as is said in science, science proceeds on the basis of funerals.

    lot of things have to die in america. there is no other way.

  3. Doc Searls’s avatar

    This isn’t about life or death. It’s about good business and bad business.

    I don’t take on faith that all newspapers will die. Some will die. All will suffer. And some will survive. Meanwhile, why make it worse? Or, why not make it better? That’s what I’m proposing.

  4. Antonio Ognio’s avatar

    Hi there Doc,

    Hey! As a long time subscriber you deserve far better treatment. Isn’t the nice thing about computers today they can be programmed to do SMART things?

    If you’ve been a subscriber for at least a few months I guess you deserve some extra days of access since you regularize the payment of your subscription!

    My hosting service does just about that and I’ve been a customer only for the last few months I gues.. For a monthly payment they will let me in and not shut my site down for the next 10 days that my invoice has been due.

    I’d say go create letsfixwsj.com and have other users blog and collaborate and bring attention to the issues and have them WSJ react!

    Regards,

    Antonio Ognio
    Lima-Peru

  5. Steve Markowski’s avatar

    Doc,

    Chances are many of the old newspapers and mags will fade away before they address their changing markets. They piss off those of us who crouched over the Sunday funnies, delivered papers on our bikes and wash ink off our hands after breakfast every day. But we think we still really need them.

    They barely exist for the new customers they need to stay alive into the next decade. I’m not sure these folks will care enough to tell the papers how to take the hassles out of paid subscriptions.

    Our twitter/FB/LinkedIn/etc friends tell us everyday who gets it and who doesn’t. Zappos, for one, has taken a very local hands-on retail business to over a billion dollars on-line. They probably make it pretty easy to trade your money for their shoes.

    Some days I think that, now that most of my print buddies have retired, it’s time give up the hassles with the old pubs and
    find the folks who are delivering the news without the grief.

    Thanks for stirring the pot.

  6. Scott’s avatar

    I let my online WSJ subscription lapse many years ago when, in the middle of a fully-paid annual subscription, they decided to charge separately for WSJ and Barron’s (Barron’s online access had previously been included in the WSJ subscription) — without notice.

    One day, I couldn’t get into Barron’s online and customer support curtly informed me that they now charge separately for it and I would have to pay an additional subscription fee to access it. It didn’t matter that I was only halfway through an annual subscription that previously had included access to Barron’s. The message was, basically, “pay up (full price) or shut up.” So, I let my subscription lapse. They eventually came back, after I had canceled my subscription, and offered me a greatly discounted subscription, but by then I was long gone.

    To this day, I still get email from the WSJ. But, not email asking me to subscribe. I get SPAM from the WSJ asking me to buy wine from the WSJ wine store. Go figure.

  7. Mimi Hui’s avatar

    Oh dear. What a case of bad usability. It does not fail to amaze me that even after 15 years, so many publishing houses do not ‘get’ the web.

    I remember when I was at Condenast (10+ years ago) + on the tech end of things, there was a massive gap between the editorial/creative staff + the tech staff. Looks like things haven’t changed very much.

    Add to it, the inability for companies to offer a brilliant digital -> non-digital handoff experiences and wow, frustrations!

    All the more reason to have people who can straddle both sides of the fence. Of course, I come biased. :)

    Glad to be back in a place where I can read your writing again! The GFW is on again/off again.

  8. Ken Kennedy’s avatar

    And the best way to make them realize that we hate this sort of thing is to stop. Period. Just don’t re-up the subscription until they fix it. Yes, it sucks. But it’s all that they listen to…as long as the wheelbarrows of money show up, they have no business incentive to change.

  9. Sarah Cortes’s avatar

    Doc, my sympathies. Glad to know I’m not the only one going through mysterious #cybersecurity data entry and page failures. Thx for the post. btw, sad because i also love the WSJ

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