Washington Times Marketing Scam?

[We interrupt this stream of usually relevant material, for a gripe about a local service. Please bear with me, after this vent, back to the usual topics]

so-called renewal notice from the Washington Times newspaper - redacted for personal identifying informationA few weeks ago, plastic-wrapped issues of the Washington Times started arriving sporadically on or near our door. For those not familiar with the paper, it’s a far second in the DC market to the respectable Washington Post, and the editorial slant of the paper is strongly to the right. Add in that it was founded by the Unification Church cult.

For the first couple weeks, I’d just throw them away if they ended up near my door — then a bill came, asking me to pay for my subscription.  What? There’s no way I’d ever subscribe to this rag.  From past experience, I know that I don’t have time to read even a good newspaper, so from an environmental perspective, I would not want one delivered (much less piling up on my door step, my neighbor’s lawn, and in the storm sewer in their plastic wrap).

I phoned the Times, had a bit of a wait, and talked with a representative who suggested that college kids may have gone around selling subscriptions. I don’t recall any students selling anything, and certainly not the Times. This seems like a very lame excuse for what appears to be a marketing scam. After shoving newspapers at people, how many feel obligated to pay when they receive a bill? This seems like a  particularly scummy business practice, so I’m sharing it here in the hope that other people in the region will read it and be forewarned, and also that similar stories can be aggregated.

According to the representative in the call center, the subscription is cancelled (how can you cancel something I never had… oh, never mind) and the account is zeroed out. If bills continue to arrive or this shows up on my credit report, I will be showing up physically in their offices, not in a good mood.

Kinkos needs competition

I don’t understand how Kinko’s pricing is competitive, when printers, color and otherwise have become commodities. The only time I’d normally set foot in a Kinko’s would be if I was very short on time and had a catastrophic technology failure, i.e, if I were at a convention or in an airport on the way to a meeting. Then, they would deserve a premium. However, today I was working from home and needed to print some items, including color copies. Due to snow insanity (see previous posts) anything governmentish is closed, so no library option. I wandered over to Kinkos, stuck a throw-away usb in their hopefully sanitized machine, and printed my stuff.

I’ll just let the prices speak for themselves. This is in addition to per-minute charges that are completely out of line with cybercafé costs for the rest of the world:

  • single page b/w: $0.49
  • double-sided b/w: $0.98
  • single page color: $0.99
  • double-sided color: 1.98

I realize that the cost is in the consumables and that heavy duty cycle means fast depreciation of the equipment, but let’s be honest here. The printers they have are nice, but not really that high-end. The paper is very light weight, and the print saturation wasn’t all that great for the price. I’m sure I’m also paying for the need to lock-down everything watertight against the assault of a thousand monkeys working on their Shakespearean plays, but still.

I think Kinkos has a good niche, and it makes sense to have centers that produce hardcopy or high volume output, but I would love to see some competition. The obvious place to look would be the big-box office supply stores (Paper Cutter, Office Max, Office Depot). The difficulty: they would need semi-competent staff to run the front end of the copy counter.

Okay, that’s my grumpiness for today. Back on your heads.

FCPS needs to suck it up

The Fairfax County Virginia Public School system is completely out of its mind. Snow has that effect in Virginia.

We just heard that school’s been canceled for Tuesday and Wednesday (after Friday and Monday off). Sure, a snow day, maybe two, is reasonable for a half meter of snow, but come on. They already took a bunch of questionable snow days right before Christmas vacation. How are working parents supposed to buffer all of the extra days at home? We don’t have these days off, and we can’t necessarily work from home on such short notice.

The make-up days are now going to eat into pre-planned holidays, change travel plans, etc. I strongly suggest that the school system write off the half-days previously allocated for teacher training, grading, and parent conferences. I’m perfectly willing to do parent conferences by teleconference; the other activities can be done outside of teaching hours.

While I’m generally sympathetic towards teachers who, in general, have difficult and under-compensated jobs, and towards the school system that is collapsing under loss of revenue due to devaluation of real-estate, I’d like the FCPS to suck it up a little.