Desperation Measures for Desperate Times

July 16, 2009 by  
Filed under Money and Behavior

desperate_timesI am increasingly fascinated by some of the “out of the box” and even desperate marketing strategies adopted by different industries during this economic downturn. The offers by some car companies to make your payments if you lose your job are one example. Another recently affected me.

Two months ago we decided to pull the plug on daily delivery of the local paper, after having been a subscriber for 29 years. We kept the Sunday paper for the bonus features and advertising supplements. For the rest, we concluded that everything we needed we could read online at the paper’s website – for free.

The paper didn’t really push back hard when we downsized our subscription. Based on recent trends, it was probably relieved that we at least kept paid Sunday delivery.

However, they called Mrs. ToughMoneyLove back a few weeks later with a new proposal: Would we like to receive the Monday through Saturday papers also? “No” she said. “We had already made that decision and it was way too soon to change it.”

“Wait” they said. “We mean for free.”

Yes, the local paper wanted to give us for nothing what we had been paying for over the past 29 years. ┬áMy wife figured – why not – can’t hurt except for a few extra trees. “How long?” she asked. She was concerned that this was one of those “try it free for a month then we start charging you again” deals.

“For a full year” they said.


When I heard this, I tried to figure out the rationale. All I could come up with is this. Because we are a paid subscriber for one day per week, the paper was permitted to count us as a daily subscriber for purposes of ad rates, as long as we were willing to accept daily delivery. In other words, whatever revenue the paper lost from our subscription fees, it could compensate for by maintaining its subscriber base at a higher lever for presentation to potential advertisers.

Desperate but perhaps an effective marketing strategy in desperate times.

I feel bad for some print newspapers, having been overtaken by online media and a general dumbing down of the populace.  Most traditional publications are trying to find a profitable spot in the online world. But that requires a complete rework of what they write and how they write it.

So now we have the morning paper again. And yes I am at least scanning it every day. The paper has shrunk dramatically. I suspect that it will eventually shrivel up completely and die, along with much of our traditional culture. What replaces it – such as endless online blather about celebrity escapades and death – is not much of a trade-off. It’s too bad that the area in which I read the most – business and personal finance – receives the least attention in the paper. That tells you something about why we are financially illiterate as a national consumer group.

I’m curious if any of you have come across desperate marketing measures comparable to this?

These semi-radical developments in the business world also make one wonder about the nature of changes we will need to make on the personal finance level so as to survive and prosper in a changed financial world.

I am off to my 40th high school reunion tomorrow so you probably won’t be hearing from me again until Monday. Wish me luck as I step into the wayback machine! While I am away, take a look at this week’s Carnival of Personal Finance.

Photo credit: David Reece

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8 Responses to “Desperation Measures for Desperate Times”
  1. MasterPo says:

    While I wouldn’t call it out of the box, I have noticed a lot more resturantes and higher end stores in my area offering specials and buy one/get one offers that never did in all the years we’ve been here!

    People just aren’t spending. :-(

  2. Kacie says:

    I’m sure you’re right about the newspaper simply wanting to count you as a subscriber. My college paper was free to readers. It was solely supported by ad revenue. The readers mattered!

    And — hold the phone — are you 68 years old, plus or minus? I had no idea you were old enough to be celebrating a 40-year high school graduation. I had you pegged at around mid-40s to early 50s.

    No wonder you’re so wise. You’ve got plenty of life experience!

  3. Andrea says:

    You are correct in your assumption, TML. They can charge more for ads if they say they have a certain number of subscribers, but it seems to me that advertisers are probably hip to this maneuver.

    I actually had to fight with the Denver Post to get them to stop sending me a paper every day. I only wanted the Sunday paper and they kept pushing me with similar offers, I finally said I would drop the subscription entirely if they sent me anything besides the Sunday paper and they agreed. I just don’t read “paper” papers all that much, it’s wasted resources.

    I did a little writeup on the Hyundai “we’ll make your payments” thing in January. It’s not a very good deal.

  4. Roger says:

    Hunh, I can’t say that I’ve encountered anything like this. Although, given that I don’t have a subscription to a ‘paper’ paper, I suppose that’s not surprising. I suppose they’re just doing whatever they can to survive. Short of a global internet crash or something similar, I doubt newspapers will be viable for too much longer.

  5. Christine says:

    Oh! Now I get it–my paper does the same thing. I just want the Sunday paper but they give me Friday and Saturday for less than they’ll charge for just Sunday. I even told them I literally take it out of its plastic bag and toss it in the recycle bin on Fri and Sat (mostly, tho sometimes I’ll flip through, since it’s here). But I’m not willing to pay more to get just Sunday. I do like the way you can flip through a section of the paper more easily than finding that info by chance on their website.

  6. Andrea says:


    If you’re really persistent, you can get them to drop the Friday and Saturday. I had the same conversation – “but they’re just going into the recycling bin” – and they wouldn’t budge until I asked to speak to a supervisor and said I would just cancel the subscription entirely if they couldn’t manage to only bring Sunday. Of course, they could call your bluff I guess and just cancel it … :)


  7. Kacie says:

    Duh, I meant 58. Sometimes the calculator in my head fails me.

  8. Gail says:

    I had a very similar experience as Mr TML with my local newspaper…had been receiving 7-day delivery for 20+ years when decided to cancel, mostly because I was getting my new online while at work and the weekday paper was going unread. When I called to cancel they convinced me to switch to Sunday only which ended up being a perfect fit for me, but a couple of months later they called and offered to throw in Wed-Fri for no added charge. I opened my mouth intending to say, of course, sign me up! but to my astonishment what instead came out was “no thanks, I don’t miss reading the weekday paper at all, let’s just skip it, I’m happy with Sunday only.” Even the Sunday paper has been drastically down-sized, both in dimensions and content…I agree with Mr. TML print newspapers are going to be extinct in a few years!

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