The Cape Cod Times Bungles Its Renewal Effort

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We recently spent the weekend on Cape Cod.

Cape Cod is a dicey market for a newspaper—with roughly 215,000 population that doubles in the summer and is losing people faster than any other region in Massachusetts. The daily edition of the Cape Cod Times has a circulation of 37,522 and 41,902 on Sundays.

Twenty years ago, the paper had 60,000 paid readers while the population of the Cape has grown by 30,000 in that time.

Our friends Jack and Evie retired to Cape Cod 15 years ago, and two years ago decided to subscribe to the Cape Cod Times.

It’s a good paper, with all the local goings-on and one of the best sports sections I have ever seen. Jack’s deal: $38.40 every six weeks.

The bill would come and Jack would faithfully send a check.

At the end of the most recent six-week period, Jack got a bill for the following amount: 26 weeks for $158.60.

Jack wrote president and publisher Peter Meyer to say he was in receipt of his bill. The gist of Jack’s letter:

“I signed up for six weeks at a time. We are retired. As senior citizens we receive our money monthly. We don’t want to pay for six months at a time.”

A few days later the phone rang as Evie was heading out the door.

The caller was from the circulation department of the Cape Cod Times. The caller said that the publisher received Jack’s letter and that the paper was offering a lower price—$25.70 a month.

“That’s very nice,” said Evie. “Thank you. That will be fine.”

“Which credit card would you like to use?”

“We always pay by check.”

“This offer is only good if you give us your credit card.”

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at

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  • Tonyscfa

    The same morons have taken over the circulation and billing departments of my local paper and many other companies as well. My 89 year old mother, widowed for 10 years, has a monthly fight with her local utility "providers" since the bill was set up in my father’s name and they will only speak to the the person whose name is on the bill. When my mother tells them that he is dead and has been dead for 10 years, they still insist on speaking to him. How do you reason with people like this?

  • Wash98052

    Denny, You’ve outlined a decent value proposition for publishers: keep soliciting existing subscribers so long as it’s profitable, based on ALL the numbers adding up. You’ve limned a thoughtful progression of steps and offers.
    So what’s up with Paddy’s common complaint (especially in my house)? I.e., The a years-ahead subscriber who gets another, still longer offer a year or more in advance. Is that a blatant expression of trickery/greed? Some dumbsmack running the circulation department? Or maybe that function outsourced to some mindless mail operation in mid-America? Whatever it is, the natural complaint is a)"they" don’t read their own records and b)"they" don’t give an actual damn about their subscribers.

  • Justme

    Ya know there is one thing that newspapers don’t seem to do anymore and it was a way to make much more money than they do now.

    That is to basically give the paper away. Which will raise the number of readers way up and then the paper can charge more to advertisers. Hell a lot of people like getting the store AD’s. It worked for oh I don’t know, a few hundred years. But then accountants got in the way and said "Hey wait we can charge people more and make even more money.". Didn’t work that way. They ran the papers into the ground, raising rates over and over and then more and more users would cancel subscriptions. Now they are doing it with web sites, starting to charge for this or that and people are going elsewhere. If they would keep the site free, find ways to lure viewers back and then fix the AD’s to sidebar, headers and footers. So the AD’s were there but not annoying and as more customers view the site they can charge more for advertising.

    And then you hit the nail on the head on customer service, people want things their way, and in the modern world its real easy to do things for people as they want. I’m on a fixed income. I get a check at the first of the month. I signed up to get my phone and internet bill to be due a bit after the first of the month. I wanted this so I would always get my payment in on time. I was told I could get my bill that way. In fact I have been told three times I can get my bill that way. They are a huge corporation billing millions of people. They print bills every day. They could easily change my bill date and bill me they way I want and as they have told me they could but they don’t. Stuff like this ticks people off and there is no reason for it.

  • Will Ezell

    Denny – this is also great advice for both Mitt’s and Barack’s teams…

    On Sunday, I sent both "camps" a donation. After all, I’m a DR guy – and I’m interested in seeing their "marketing campaigns" and follow-up e-mails.

    On Monday, I received 2 solicitation letters PUSHING HARD for additional donations – both from the same camp (I’ll let you figure out which one). One in the morning, another mid-afternoon.

    Later that afternoon, I wrote them a note saying that it didn’t feel very good to receive 2 "urgent" e-mails less than 24 hours after making a donation. While making a donation makes most people feel like they’re "in the clubhouse", yet while I felt as if I barely had my foot inside the clubhouse, their double-barrage made me feel like I was already being pushed out.

    And this evening, I received a canned reply from "" from the COO of the campaign. The "no-reply" part is literally laughable!

    Along the same lines, I signed up to receive e-mails from a not-so-well-known biz coach a couple of weeks ago. Thru his AWeber account, I’m now receiving one e-mail each morning. 5 days ago, I dropped him a note thru his contact info on his website. The note complimented him and asked a question. He hasn’t replied – not even something as simple as a thank-you, or I appreciate your thoughts…

    I was actually considering recommending his services to a good friend.

    But now that he hasn’t had the gumption to reply, I don’t think I’m gonna recommend him.

    Something tells me that if my e-mail had been a question about purchasing his services or products I would have received a prompt reply…

    We’re a suspicious society. If you say you care – prove it by your actions. A simple thank-you could have gained a $10,000 / year client.

    Finally – to the "reader" who commented below – have at my response. I’m more than certain you’ll find more than 2 language / grammar errors in mine…

  • Paddy

    I keep receiving renewal notices from a well-know magazine that I do subscribe to. I just sent back their last offer of a renewal with a gift subscription and a free gift. I paid the postage to send them this: "Stop sending me these notices. I just renewed my subscription through June 2014 and you cashed my check #… on May…2012. If you send another notice I will cancel my subscription."
    You have to constantly keep track of all these magazine/paper subscriptions and when your subscription expires or you’ll have paid for renewals for as long as you live and then some!

  • reader

    Great article but one comment: the word is NOT expire, it is expiration. Let us please use correct language. I was once in a traning session where Amex used the word "spend" for expenditure. NOT acceptable.

  • David

    Hey Denny – Good column. With regards to advanced renewals … we used to advise publishers to start renewing 9 months prior to expiration. They’d always say, "We can’t do that." But of course you can. We confronted the issue of asking for a renewal so long before expiration by saying in the letter, "Your subscription is NOT yet expiring, but we have this discount offer in effect now, and it will not be in effect when your subscription runs out." Bingo. Works like a charm. So now the secret’s out, who’s gonna try it? Based on the poor quality of what passes for renewal efforts that I see nowadays, probably nobody. David

  • keepinitsimple

    Great words.
    My summary of what you said :
    It is unfortunate that in trying to operate a succesful business today, the management of all levels do not have any common sense towards the customer that bottonm line, pays their salary.
    When the business believes their policies are more important than the customer, guess who wins in the end ?
    I’ll give you a hint- It is not the business.
    The upper management of too many companies today really need an attitude adjustment.

    And for what it is worth, I lived on the Cape for 19 years, subscribed to the Cape Cod Times for 12 of them. I also canceled them when they went to " credit card automatic renewal only". I also " TRIED " to pay by check.
    After that I would only ocassionally buy a CCT paper- 2-3 times a month.