"Subscribing to LA Times Requires Binding Arbitration Agreement...for Starters" by Daniel Guss
Caveat emptor! Here's why I did it anyway.
@TheGussReport — Recently, the oldest person on either side of my family asked me to restart their long-expired subscription to the Los Angeles Times print edition. By old, we’re talking born-in-the-first-year-of-FDR’s-first-term old, which may still lower the age of the average print subscriber.
Despite its acknowledged subscriber woes, the Times’ Manila-based phone reps require you to agree to a whole lot of things in order to subscribe to a newspaper that is largely obsolete by the time it hits your doorstep.
YOU MUST AGREE TO BINDING ARBITRATION
Before charging your credit card, the Times’ phone reps require you to agree to binding arbitration, but won’t explain in what circumstances that might be necessary.
Since the Times’ spokesperson refused to respond to my emailed questions, a good guess for why this requirement exists is that some of its other business practices, like those below, may be problematic in places where some subscribers are located and it wants to avoid a highly visible and costly class action lawsuit.
Ya gotta love the owner’s confidence in its product!
YOU AGREE TO BUY OTHER THINGS NOT INCLUDED IN THE PRICE OF YOUR SUBSCRIPTION
Not included in the cost of your LA Times subscription, but that you have to agree to purchase, are up to eight additional “premium issues” at a cost of $4.49 per issue, or $35.92 more per year.
If that’s not bad enough, since those issues are included in the paper anyway, you can just ask the Times to not bill you for them, at least according to the phone reps with whom I spoke. If that’s correct, it just means that the Times can pick your pocket for an extra $35.92 unless you tell them to not do that.
Again, the Times had ample opportunity to address this, but did not.
FREE HOME DELIVERY MAY COST YOU
Buried in its 7,000-word terms and conditions is the caveat that “transportation costs may apply to home delivery, which may vary by location and are subject to change.”
Undoubtedly, this may apply to delivery of the Times to distant reaches. But as written, could apply to any Times print subscriber. For example, if the Times lost 25% of its print subscribers, making the cost of delivery-per-household skyrocket, it could assign fees to get it to you.
Fortunately, subscribers can call, “to determine if you have the option to pick up the newspaper and avoid these charges.”
ALL SALES ARE FINAL…AND CONTINUOUS
If you subscribe to the LA Times — in any format — you’re in it until the end of the subscription. No refunds, even if you don’t like the reporting, endorsements or the ever-shrinking size of the paper.
Further, you agree that the Times will re-subscribe you at the going rate, unless you tell it to cancel before your renewal date. And good luck to those of you who don’t mark the date on your calendar, because if you miss it by even an hour, you’re in for another year…with no refunds.
The phone reps say that you can change this in the settings, but you have to do that on your own on their website.
LA TIMES PHONE REPS DON’T TELL THE TRUTH, Part 1
“Categories of Third Parties To Which We May Sell/Share That Information” include “Third parties, such as third-party advertisers, and advertising and list brokering networks and analytics providers.”
Note the word “brokering.”
That means your personal information is gone and may be continually sold as a perpetual source of passive income.
That doesn’t just apply to your home and phone information, but any personal information you may unwittingly provide, including your age, marital status, gender, income and education level. That way, they might know things like which car manufacturer to sell your personal information to at a hefty profit.
It also may gather information on subjects of the articles that you click and from comments that you may make on them.
And lastly, the Times may store your personal information on servers located outside of the United States where privacy protection laws may be weaker, if they exist at all.
That’s where I think the binding arbitration is most applicable. It is foreseeable that your identity can be stolen, and the Times may want to avoid a class action lawsuit about it. Just a hunch, friends.
LA TIMES PHONE REPS DON’T TELL THE TRUTH, Part 2
Speaking of car sales, the Times phone reps consistently claim that the subscription rate they ‘re giving you is the best deal available. For seven-day home delivery of the print edition, they claim, it’ll run you $364.
I wound up paying about $115 less, not including whether it charges me for those eight premium editions, and assuming they don’t suddenly decide to charge for home delivery at an undetermined cost.
The Times’ Manila-based phone reps are impossibly polite. They read from a script and are profusely apologetic if asked logical questions that require independent thought. The Times’ spokesperson would not state whether these are employees or contractors, and whether they are compensated with bonuses for the number of subscribers they bring in, which may explain their polite but not-entirely-truthful responses.
But the one thing that I wanted to know most about the Times’ phone reps is whether they get the same things from the Times that its reporters, columnists and opinion writers lobby for everyone else to get: are they unionized and do they receive a living wage?
It is beyond ironic that the Times’ position on all of the above is a consistent no comment.
I will leave you with this last thought.
Recently, there have been a lot of whispers about whether the Times is up for sale just five or so years after it was purchased by Patrick Soon-Shiong. As I reported recently, the Times vehemently denies this.
But what happens to its credibility if that turns out to be untrue, too, and it has failed to publish little more than its corporate denials?
What then, LA Times?
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(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a multi-award-winning journalist. In June ‘23, he won the LA Press Club’s “Online Journalist of the Year” and “Best Activism Journalism” awards. He is City Editor for the Mayor Sam network, and has been a featured contributor for CityWatchLA, KFI AM-640, iHeartMedia, 790-KABC, Cumulus Media, KCRW 89.9 FM, KRLA 870 AM, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Magazine, Movieline Magazine, Emmy Magazine, Los Angeles Business Journal, Pasadena Star-News, Los Angeles Downtown News and the Los Angeles Times in its sports, opinion, entertainment and Sunday Magazine sections among other publishers.)
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