By Dom Serafini

Apparently, when a publication is born in print, it’s difficult for it to go fully digital very quickly.

Exhibit “A” is The Wall Street Journal. My yearly print subscription to this venerable publication started two years ago with a promotional package. Since it continued to be convenient and inexpensive, I renewed the subscription for the current year. Its delivery was impeccable. Rain or shine the print edition was promptly delivered at 5:30 a.m. Monday to Saturday. (It doesn’t publish a Sunday edition. Sundays are instead time for The New York Times, which I only purchase at newsstands. We at VideoAge don’t patronize kiosks that no longer sell newspapers.)

It is a great service. It seemed as though the WSJ‘s delivery people made the U.S. Postal Service’s motto — “the neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” part, at least — their own.

The problem started when I asked for a delivery suspension during an overseas trip and wanted to activate the digital service, instead. This was included in the print subscription rate, but never activated before since I tend to prefer to give my eyes some screen rest by reading print publications whenever possible.

Suspending the print delivery required a toll-free phone call. It was as easy as ABC. After all, print has the intrinsic characteristic of elegant simplicity.

But activating the digital portion of the subscription proved to be an MIT-level challenge. For starters, it could not be activated automatically online. The online registration form did not recognize any of the requested parameters. Not the account number, not the e-mail address, not the physical address. Plus, getting the account number required a phone call since it is not indicated on the delivery address label.

Ultimately, the help of customer service became imperative, and after a couple of “press one, press two” passages I was connected to a “live” operator whose computer was down and requested that I call back in a few hours. On the second call a different operator came on the line to tell me that I still couldn’t activate my digital subscription, and couldn’t connect me to the technical service because it was a Saturday. It was therefore suggested that I call back during working hours on Monday.

The third call on Monday still didn’t bring about any results, not even from the technical service because the technical operator required help from yet another division that was unavailable at that time. But the operator graciously wrote down some of my information and promised to e-mail me the digital subscription access data as soon as it became available. Three days later I received a note that my access was “active,” but actually “activating” it proved to be impossible, so I had to contact the help center again in order to learn how to log in. I was then supposed to log in, and, if necessary, reset my password by using the old one, which I never got because I hadn’t ever activated the service.

The saga continued the next day with another phone call, which, this time, finally led to me being able to actually activate the digital subscription, and bits of The Wall Street Journal’s bytes were — at long last — able to reach my computer screen.

But wait… it continued. Asked to comment on this story (sent via e-mail to the WSJ‘s editors), a form letter was received, thanking us for the opinion. Then, about one hour later we received a “Cancellation Confirmation,” explaining “This email confirms your recent request to cancel your WSJ Digital Plus” (a request that was never made). This e-mail was followed 21 minutes later with a thank you note “for updating your account information.” Stay tuned!

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