Double Standards at the New York Times
This is a followup to the worst-received piece I’ve ever posted here. The New York Times used advertising that did not clearly state its offering to customers. The Times itself is highly critical of how other businesses operate, so I thought this was particularly bad.
Consider the Times in its criticism of Apple’s iPhone pricing (hat tip: The Macalope). Their fact-finders discovered that if you want to buy an iPhone for $199, you have to sign up for a two-year contract:
If, like me, you watched Apple’s self-referential love fest for the new iPhone and suddenly wanted one very badly, you may have been encouraged by the way the price was listed: “From $199.”
Apple could have been more transparent and said that the typical base price was $649 or more. But that would have spoiled the fun.
It turns out that upgrading an iPhone every two years on a 24-month phone service contract, as I’ve been doing, doesn’t cost $199. This year it will cost me at least $649. In fact, it could cost considerably more than that if you add the miscellaneous charges that your phone carrier may impose, and the discounts that it may withhold.
Truly Snowdenesque revelations here. And if you don’t believe them, then believe some guy they quoted:
“I think it’s fair to say that people wouldn’t be as motivated to go out and buy if they thought it was a $650 purchase,” said Craig Moffett, senior analyst and a partner at MoffettNathanson Research. “And if you look at the marketing issues and the accounting issues, it’s fair to conclude that the companies have a strong incentive to obfuscate about pricing.”
For their part, the corporations have been clearly deceptive:
The information you need to figure out the real price exists on the Apple website and on the sites of the various major phone carriers. But often it’s not easy to find the numbers or to calculate them. The first time I tried, on AT&T, I had to click through several steps of the online ordering process before I stumbled on the dismaying truth.
Several steps! It’s a wonder that a journalist was able to figure it out at all.
And there’s more. Because even the smaller and cheaper of the two main versions of the iPhone 6 dwarfs the iPhone 5 that I carry in my pocket, the protective case I’ve got now won’t fit on a new phone. And I won’t risk dropping such a precious gadget without a case. With a corporate discount, the cheapest replacement case I was able to find on the AT&T store goes for $16. Ouch. Tack that onto the final price.
The phone is a different size! How dare they hide this information except for prominently in every single ad that states that the new iPhones are bigger and thinner.
If we actually look at Apple’s website, the lie of the $199 iPhone lasts for…about 3 inches of screen space. Here, you can see I chose an iPhone “From $199” and then I can choose a finish. When I choose a carrier, it says even before I can click on one which options require a 2-year contract.
If I scroll down a little bit further, I see the T-mobile option without a contract:
Well, that looks clear. Maybe its carriers that are evilly obfuscating iPhone pricing? Let’s check out AT&T, the vendor the Times criticizes. I went to the home page, which doesn’t mention any pricing for the iPhone, and clicked the “Buy Now” button under the picture of the iPhone. This comes up:
Here, we see $0 down, and $27.09/month displayed prominently. The “for 24 months” is in a smaller font and black, but it isn’t exactly hiding. It’s right underneath the $27.09/month, which is the most logical place for it to be. This required exactly one click, on my first attempt to find the information, which stands in stark contrast to the reported “I had to click through several steps of the online ordering process before I stumbled on the dismaying truth” experience of the Times.
You do have to multiply the numbers yourself to figure out what the cumulative cost would be, which is a non-starter since Nate Silver left. Never mind. Better to just dash off 2000 words on the unfairness to people with broad-based educations.
The Times itself puts the price of its own product on the bottom back of an advertisement in a microscopic font in a text box that they made gray and well after they have made their call to action to call their phone number, visit their website, or enter and mail your credit card information:
The Times is applying one impossibly high standard for other large companies while failing those same standards itself. Expect substantive analyses of the adventures of the Palin clan before the do any exposés on their own marketing practices.