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Washington Post Charges Print Subscribers Extra for Special Edition, Screws Up the Printing, Directs Them to View It Online

Photograph by Evy Mages.

If you subscribe to the Washington Post in print, you may have missed an email alerting you to an impending “Expanded Holiday Edition” heading for your doorstep on December 5, with a “Year in Pictures” section as the prime attraction. Other things to look forward to: the Food section’s holiday cookies extravaganza and a special section featuring Mary Jordan’s deep dive into Margaret “Muffie” Yeatman‘s unsolved murder.

The email also included some news that wasn’t entirely welcome: “All home delivery subscribers will be charged their Sunday home delivery rate for this special issue.” There was no obvious option to decline paying extra for this dead-tree bonanza, just a phone number for questions and a link to the terms of sale print subscribers agree to.

Whatever, I thought, I get a lot of value from my daily Post subscription, which is still miles cheaper than what I pay for home delivery of the Sunday New York Times. Mine may be one of two households on my side of my block that still gets the print paper every day, but as a discovery vehicle for local news it is still hard to beat. Also, I like making cookies.

But when that special photo section arrived, it was a bit of a mess: Many of the photos were misaligned, so it wasn’t quite the premium experience one might expect for that extra cash.

The solution? According to a correction that ran on the second page of the paper this morning, we should look at that section…online.

There aren’t a lot of us who still get the newspaper every day. According to the Alliance for Audited Media, the Post‘s average Monday-Friday print circulation was 242,073 in the third quarter of 2018. During the same reporting period three years earlier, average Monday-Friday print circulation was 359,158. That’s a 32 percent drop in just three years, and there’s no chance those numbers will go in a different direction.

When Post owner Jeff Bezos spoke in front of an audience of Washington business leaders this past September, he described the Post’s pivot from a business that used to reap a high amount of money from a relatively small number of subscribers to one that brings in smaller amounts of money from a much bigger audience. As a fan not just of the Post but of many of the people who work there, I hope this strategy is wildly successful. I use the paper’s digital products all day long.

Still, I think it’s fair to say we print subscribers got slightly manhandled by this sequence of events. (That said, the cookie section is very good.) Things here are nowhere near as bad as they are elsewhere–Gannett hosed its print subscribers during this year’s midterm elections, for example, and I can’t think of any time recently that the Post made me feel that way. I want to pay for journalism and I’ll keep subscribing to the Washington Post in print as long as they’ll let me. But charging me extra for something I didn’t ask for, screwing it up, and directing me to the digital product is a fine way to remind me how irrational this desire can be.

I asked the Post this morning whether it still planned to charge extra for the muffed edition and still haven’t heard back; its PR department is usually terrific about responding (hard to believe they’re not scrambling the jets over this question!) and I’ll of course update this when they do.

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Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.