UPDATE: We got a call back from the Merc’s Jeff Brinley, who told us that he’d be talking to “the vendor responsible” for the folks Brad and this correspondent spoke to, to make sure they weren’t using any “misleading language.” When we asked him, well, why would anyone opt for the e-Edition over the site, he said that the e-Edition has a number of features that a “fair number” of people like, including: a 30-day archive of past papers (can’t you go even further than that on your site? “Yes.”); the whole paper, not just the portions on the website (your whole paper doesn’t go online? “No, some of the wire content that appears in print doesn’t go online.”); and that “when you roll over some of the ads in the e-Edition you can see the URL of the advertisers website and go there.” (Sigh. We’re not even bothering with this one, it’s just mean).

He also noted that the e-Edition might be better suited to those who have an appreciation for the work that goes into the design of the print product. As a freeloading internet reading philistine, your correspondent is clearly deficient, so we ask you, our readers: does this fulfill your design-appreciative needs?

Appeal reader Brad sent us a note this morning:

I just got a call from the San Jose Mercury News offering a “special deal” to their “most loyal” subscribers: access to the online edition for only $14.99 a year.

What? Is the Merc going rogue and starting to charge for online content? We had to know, so we called their general home delivery number.

The first rep we spoke to seemed to agree with this assumption.

Hi, is it true you guys are calling folks and asking them to pay $14.99 a year to access the Merc online?

Are you checking your account? May I have your address?

No, I just want to know if you’re going to block unpaid access to your website.

Yes, you need to pay $14.99 to read the newspaper online.

So, when is this going to start? When are you closing your website off from readers?

Are you reading the Mercury online now?

Yes, I am.

How long have you been doing that?

About ten years, maybe more.

Ma’am, I need to get your address.

No, I’m not comfortable with that. May I please speak to a supervisor?

After 20 minutes on hold (wow, subscriptions must be BOOMING) we decided to call back.

Hi. Are you guys calling people telling them they need to pay $14.99 a year to read your paper online?

Uh-huh, isn’t that a great deal?

I don’t know about that. So, are you going to start blocking unpaid access to your web site? When is that happening?

Oh, no, you can still access the website. You just can’t read the paper online.

Please help me understand the distinction.

We’re having a special deal, and you can now get the e-Edition for $14.99. Do you want to get it?

No thanks.

Are you kidding? It took two calls and some frustrating round-and-round to figure out that the Merc has deployed its circulation minions in support of this usability nightmare of a glorified PDF? Seriously, look at this thing.

And there’s the more troubling issue of Merc representatives who don’t seem in any big hurry to tell you that this service you’re being asked to pay for is not their (really nice and very usable) web site, it’s something crappy and different. We’ve left a message with Dan Smith, the Merc’s VP for circulation, and will let you know if and when we hear from him.

Have any of you gotten calls similar to Brad’s? Let us know in the comments!

the author

Eve Batey is the editor and publisher of the San Francisco Appeal. She used to be the San Francisco Chronicle's Deputy Managing Editor for Online, and started at the Chronicle as their blogging and interactive editor. Before that, she was a co-founding writer and the lead editor of SFist. She's been in the city since 1997, presently living in the Outer Sunset with her husband, cat, and dog. You can reach Eve at eve@sfappeal.com.

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