The Sunday, April 28 edition of the Missoulian was billed at a "premium" rate for home subscribers, but it's understandable if you happened to miss the announcement—and the extra cost.
The "premium" rate policy is listed each day in small print on page A2. The notice states that, unless you opt out of receiving a "premium" paper by contacting the circulation department, the issue will cost an extra $1 on top of what you already agreed to pay for your subscription. The extra buck gets deducted from your credit balance. In other words, if you signed up for 52 weeks for $52 (as one Indy staffer recently did), it becomes a 51-week subscription unless you very alertly opted out of the "premium" issue.
Since November, the Missoulian has published six "premium" rate issues, including one that cost an extra $2.
For those who don't regularly read the small print on A2, there is another way to learn about "premium" charges—in the form of a bill. One Missoulian subscriber who let a subscription expire received a $4.50 invoice for four "premium" issues from November and December 2012. When he called to find out how he could possibly owe money for a subscription he already paid, a customer service representative at the paper's billing office explained that the charges weren't taken from existing subscriptions when the "premium" charges were first implemented. Since the subscription lapsed, they had no current account to pull from and therefore issued a bill. She also pointed to the A2 announcement as fair warning. When asked if anyone had complained about what seemed like a somewhat shady practice of nickel-and-diming subscribers, the woman said, "Oh, yes. Quite a few people are mad about it."
Missoulian Publisher Jim McGowan brushed aside concerns about the fairness of "premium" rates when asked about it by an Indy reporter. No wonder, because it's making McGowan a bundle. The Alliance for Audited Media listed the Missoulian's average paid Sunday circulation at 30,662, with home and mail delivery totaling 21,334. That means the paper has earned approximately $149,338 on "premium" issues in just six months.
So, what in the name of Joseph Pulitzer was so special about the April 28 "premium" issue?
A 16-page fashion supplement.
It's no secret daily newspapers are struggling in a digital age. Finding new ways to make money is key to survival. But choosing to surreptitiously nick loyal readers doesn't seem like a smart move. Unless, of course, you're counting on them never finding out.