Double Standards at the New York Times

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Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

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28 Responses

  1. To make matters worse, I bet Yasmin Namini didn’t even sign that letter herself!Report

  2. Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

    The amount of effort companies put into making it hard for you to predict what your bill will be never ceases to amaze me. My startup is doing software as a service type stuff and our customers are stunned when they realize that we have clear pricing tables on our web site. Most of the competition wants you to hang around with sales people and agree to complex billing schemes, and they want to negotiate customer by customer because that’s how enterprise software works. We’re disgusted enough with our experiences with the model that we’ve done everything we can to make pricing simple and transparent, and it’s actually getting a response from the customers.

    It feels like there’s a trend of less and less price transparency, but I’m not sure it’s real. I think that just about anybody my age and younger is used to the “buy it online” model where you don’t have to talk to sales and you get a bill that makes at least some sense, and it pisses us off when we deal with anything else. Just about every physical product seems to be purchased in a sensible way now. You can buy cars online for a single fixed price and never have to count your fingers after shaking hand with a salesperson. The only thing left that seems largely problematic is the monthly service types of operations like cable/satellite TV, Internet and telephone. But at least on the telephone side where competition actually exists, a lot of the really objectionable stuff is starting to come apart at the seams. Two year contracts and bundled phone pricing are starting to become optional, so it’s only a matter of time before they go the way of counting your text messages and voice minutes. I’m optimistic. At least, I’m optimistic about everything except for television and Internet. We’ll see how that goes.

    It seems to me that any organization that’s trying to jump off the dying dinosaur of print media and attract younger customers to pay for digital services should not be going the “Let’s do the opposite of what successful companies like Amazon.com do” route by hiding prices and nickel and diming them. Bad call, NYT.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Troublesome Frog says:

      tf,
      It makes more sense negotiating on a customer by customer basis on the hardware side.
      Syrian Government has different data storage needs than woot, to pull two randomly selected clients out of my head.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Kim says:

        Do they also have different “pricing needs” for the same hardware? Or just different amounts of money to be extracted?Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim says:

        tf,
        I think “different pricing needs” happen more on the level of “how much of a Pain in the Ass are you going to be?” [Aka if supporting you means I need to talk with you, that’s going to cost extra. And if you’re being a dick, I’m not going to keep you as a customer].
        (this is actually transparent pricing, because PITA actually does cost more).Report

  3. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    I think you are assuming that all the pieces at the Times move together as one.

    Some of my more social justice warrior friends like to get really angry at the various lifestyles pages of of the Times. They rage at the covering of housing for the upper-middle class and above (Great Homes and Destinations. They rage at profiles of homes of theatre directors without mentioning that said theatre director is the scion of of a huge fortune. They rage at the 36 hours in X feature which covers fairly fancy things to do usually. They rage that the Wedding Announcements are generally for future members of the upper-middle class.

    I think this rage is silly and misguided. Why should the styles section be held to the same standard as the news section? Both sections serve different purposes.

    Now I don’t think the Times business section is great with their subscription stuff but I doubt they have much communication with the consumer protection bureau or whatnot. I also don’t mind the froth of the Styles section if it leads to the Times being able to do the very good undercover reporting that they usually do multiple times a week.

    Yet many people choose to be members of the unflinchingly strident. I don’t get this.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      [Deleted] [Deleted] [Deleted]!!!

      I’m sure their criticism of the styles section is a result of their failure to understand what the styles section is for. They couldn’t possibly have any other reason, since you don’t get it.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Chris says:

        @chris

        I am not exactly talking about people who grew up knowing poverty. I am talking about people who grew up quite privileged by American standards and will do things that are quite privileged by American standards like do a weekend trip to city X because they were able to land a reservation at on of that cities and the nations hottest restaurants or fly to city X for a music festival. I don’t do things like that. I don’t really care if people do things like that.

        Many of them also went to the chociest K-12 independent schools and have a decent chance on sending their children to the same schools.

        But it is kind of odd to do something like that and then comment on the privilege of the Styles section.

        There are worse things in the world that the general silliness that is the New York Times Styles and Wedding Announcement sections. I would rather solve those issues than waste energy ranting against the fact that the Sunday wedding section prints the mingling of the SAT scores.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        I knew you were a Marxist!Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Chris says:

        He’s dithering between being a limousine liberal or a champagne socialist, but he can’t afford a limo and he doesn’t like the taste of champagne.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Chris says:

        @james-hanley

        I do too like the taste of champagne! Plus a champagne socialist is still a socialist 🙂

        More seriously, I have no idea what you and Chris are talking about unless it a materialism thing. I am like most people and make my beliefs up from a rough hash of things. I have no claims on ideological consistency.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris says:

        I called you a Marxist in jest, because your last comment displayed the combination of class essentialism and attribution of anti-bourgeois sentiments of the bourgeois to false consciousness that one usually only sees among hard core Marxists.

        At this point, your criticisms of their views of the Styles page have been: “I don’t get it” and “They went to good kindergartens.” If you don’t see why I might have to delete some of my responses to this to avoid incurring Dave’s wrath, then I can’t help you.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Saul,
      I can rage all I want at advertising in the form of news articles, that quantitatively impoverishes people who must “keep up with the joneses” (itself a stupid idea, but, neighbors).Report

  4. The original article actually makes a moderately better case than I initially thought it would. I thought it was just going to compare the subsidized cost to the unsubsidized cost (the listed T-Mobile price). Which is pointless because having a subsidized phone or not does not usually affect your bill.

    But in his case it did! Signing the new contract apparently cost him some discounts. Which is quite relevant and is, as he says, hard to know ahead of time.

    Unfortunately, he is not always clear when he’s talking about which type of plan he’s talking about.Report

  5. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I got into a big fight with Verizon when they charged me a $30 upgrade fee when I moved from the 4S to the 5S (only because I finally broke my 4S). “But you get the phone at a discount!” “Not really. In fact, your new Edge pricing plan shows that you don’t discount the phone but rather roll the price into the monthly bill.” “Still! Discount!” “No. Not a discount. And to reward me for years of loyalty and my agreement to stay with you another two years, you charge me $30.” “We’re really sorry.” “If you were REALLY sorry, you wouldn’t charge me.” “No. But, really, we’re really sorry. AND DISCOUNT!”

    They really think we’re all brain dead morons.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

      I didn’t know that they charged the fee on those payment plan plans. That’s really irksome. I went ahead and reupped my contract when I did the math and determined that an early termination fee likely wouldn’t be enough to outdo the subsidy.

      I really wish what TMo food was the norm.Report

  6. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    If Consumer Reports has all kinds of shady business practices but accurately gives me information about other companies’ shady practices that affect me as a consumer, I want them to continue to do the latter while they correct the former – and even if they never do! The service is still valuable to me. And so will be the service of the organization that brings me that news about Consumer Reports, who themselves may have shady practices that someone else may bring to my attention.

    It would be great if everybody kept their house perfectly in order. But I sure as hell don’t want news organizations to suspend their reporting on other businesses, including their shady or misleading or unclear customer-service practices, until such time as they do. There’s nothing that I gain from that.

    That being said, to the extent you’re not saying you wish the Times hadn’t written the article but instead that they would just make their own pricing more transparent in keeping with their reporting on cellphone pricing, then that fits the model I lay out above perfectly, so I’m absolutely with you there.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Michael Drew says:

      FWIW, I’m less bothered by the hypocrisy and more bothered by the Times thinking the iPhone pricing is problematic. It’s not. In fact, the information offered here is significantly clearer about the true price of the phone than what i found when upgrading with Verizon via Best Buy.

      To me, this would be like faulting a hotel for offering free wifi when, in reality, they simply roll the price of the wifi into the reservation. Ya know, the way just about every company rolls every cost into the final price charged to customers.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Kazzy says:

        I dunno, I guess I appreciate the article quite a bit (not now that Vikram has brought it to my attention). And others in the consumer journalism field have apparently found it a worthwhile topic as well.

        I probably would also have appreciated Vikram’s earlier post on the Times more as well (had I looked at it more closely, I should say) if I wash’t already fairly familiar with this particular gambit from them. Once you’re familiar with it it doesn’t seem as much like a scam (which is not to say it actually ever is a scam, but it’s all about misdirection to some extent or other) – and that, now that I think about it, is the value of this kind of reporting in the first place.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy says:

        “Keeping your costs under control may take some work: I discovered that a relatively new option — buying a phone on the installment plan from AT&T, my current carrier — turns out to be much cheaper for me than getting the phone through a service contract, the way I’d done it before. I didn’t know that until I crunched the numbers. ”

        That seems to be the key. It’s not obviously deceptive, but since everyone is likely assuming the 2-year contract thing is how you get the cheaper phone, and since AT&T and Apple both know they’re assuming that, it can be argued that it is, in fact, deceptive.

        The issue is the shift, over the last year or 18 months, in the way the major carriers are selling phones. No longer do you get a huge discount for signing up for 2 years, but instead you get the phone on installments. Since a lot of the peopl who last got their phones 2 years ago won’t be aware of this, they’re likely to find the new numbers confusing.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        @chris

        At least in my experience, I can log on to Verizon and explore different plans and a tally is kept alongside saying, “You’ll be paying $X more/less based on the options selected.” Sure, that takes some proactive effort and I’d certainly prefer to see more transparency on the behalf of businesses, but I guess it’s silly to expect that and I’m not sure I can think of a law that will address the issue that won’t do more harm than good.

        My issue is when they use conflicting language and then insist that their interpretation is what matters. If the front of the flyer says, “FREE* PHONE!” and the back of the flyer says, “*We’ll charge you $10 a month for the phone,” than the phone is by no definition of the word “free” actually free and they shouldn’t be allowed to call it such.

        Here, the ad refers to how much money down. And while some people might see “$0 down*” and think “Free!” those are not the same thing. Is it deceptive? Sure. But I don’t know if it is illegal, immoral, or unethical.Report

  7. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Stuff like this is why I think it’s important that we advertise to children. “Buy this cereal! The prize at the bottom will make you happy!”

    And then, after the third prize from the third box fails to deliver… a light can dawn in their eyes about how the commercials are lying to them.

    Advertising to children gives them antibodies against stuff like this later in life. A next-gen iPhone for just $200? WHAT’S THE CATCH??? Oh, there it is. This is just like the baking powder submarine. You think “oh, that’s cool!” but, no, it sucks.Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to Jaybird says:

      Your phone came with Sea-Monkeys too?Report

    • Avatar Shannon's Mouse in reply to Jaybird says:

      This comment strikes me as about 20 years out of date. Marketing to kids now isn’t about pushing nutritionally dubious breakfast foods at kids with the promise of crappy prizes. Now the programming IS the advertisement… for the associated merchandise. Basically, the vast majority of kids entertainment operates on the model that was first perfected by George Lucas and Star Wars. And the merchandising provides lots of opportunities to upsell.

      A kid that gets a crappy free “Cars” toy or “Frozen” toy in their happy meal isn’t going to think “McDonalds sucks” or “Disney sucks”, they’re going to think “my parents are too cheap/lame/poor to buy me the cool Cars toy from the toy store that my friend’s parents bought.” It doesn’t give them antibodies to help them be a better consumer, it trains them about the importance of being a conspicuous consumer.Report

      • Sadly, I haven’t been keeping up with children’s shows and associated advertising as much as I’d like.

        It doesn’t surprise me that they’ve gotten a lot more sophisticated, though. Darn you parents’ groups! This is your fault!Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Shannon's Mouse says:

        The card game cartoons that just advertise the really expensive card games is the phenomenon that annoys me the most (because it cost me the most money).

        Also, advertisements in television shows that they try to integrate into the plot. “In this scene, we’re in our brand new Ford Focus, and its voice-activated navigation system, which we will use rather conspicuously, saves the day when we have to find our way to the warehouse in which our comrades are being held captive.”Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Shannon's Mouse says:

        @shannons-mouse

        That was true when I was growing up in the 1980s. Though we also got the ads for sugary cereals.

        I am a bit sad at the death of the Saturday Morning Cartoon block though.Report