I Finally Understand the Digital Subscription Model

I’m in Dallas this weekend for a family event. As I write, the rest of the family is out of the hotel, shopping and seeing friends. If you knew me well, you wouldn’t be surprised to learn that I’m in the room watching baseball and reading on my iPad.

Over the past month or so, in fact, I’ve made a rather rapid transition to eliminate nearly all paper from my reading. I’m not talking about books; I was an early Kindle adopter. I’m talking about everything else: magazines, newspapers, blogs, web sites.

My reading has changed not because the content has gotten that much better, but because the apps are better and, therefore, the accessibility to the content is better. When you add in the ability to see video and listen to audio alongside the written word, I think digital media in the right app brings a much better experience than a hard copy newspaper or magazine.

It’s an experience that, in my opinion, finally justifies paying the same (or more) for a digital subscription. The days of free digital content have long been over, but now I’m a believer that is willing to pay.

My Sports Illustrated app brings me up-to-date news and tweets alongside the nearly stale article. The Businessweek app includes video and audio and often adds new content mid-week. You don’t have time to read The Economist? No problem. The app comes with a recorded soundtrack, with the articles read by very soothing British voices.

You get none of these with your paper copy. I also get my digital copy before your paper copy arrives in the mail.

Aggregation is huge as well. I use Newsify as my RSS reader. It displays all my feeds in easy-to-read tabloid format. I also dabble a bit with Flipboard, Zite, TrapIt, Pulse, and Daily Planet as news aggregator applications.

Newsify costs $0.99 on the app store. One time cost of $1.99? No problem.

For me, the digitization of media has turned the corner. I’m now able to read more with the iPad that I could ever before. This means that I am willing to pay for more content than ever before. I now understand why The Economist charges the same for a digital subscription and a print+digital subscription. I now understand why The Wall Street Journal charges over double per week to add digital access to print-only access.

When my SI and BW subscriptions are up for renewal, I want digital only. If digital only isn’t available, I’ll pay for the paper, but recycle the paper right away. At least I’m environmentally friendly?


Surgical Shopping

And so launches of my campaign to introduce “Surgical Shopping” into the mix for a future Olympic competition.  Frankly, I want a competition I can win.  After all, how many people can try on four blue blazers, settle on a $500 model, and buy it with alterations in 15 minutes?  I can.

Surgical Shopping is the sport of purchasing an item in a public shopping mall or big box store with the appropriate combination of speed, cost, quality, and intangibles.  There are two variations:

  • “Open” Surgical Shopping:  athletes can buy any item they want.
  • “Targeted” Surgical Shopping: athletes all must buy the same item.

Each of these two can also be further clarified by asking athletes to stay within a specific budget or achieve a specific discount off list price.

While Surgical Shopping has female, male, and pairs competitions, I think this will appeal most to the stereotypical male (thanks Dagwood), who’d rather eat pizza and watch sports than go shopping.  Women typically struggle in this sport, due to their inability to focus in a store, especially in a place like Target, where bargains on unneeded items are always in sight.

Once the item is purchased, and the contest returns to the staring line, judges score what we call “the get” based on the following:

  1. Price
  2. Speed
  3. Ability to return the item
  4. Quality (either by experts or carefully pre-calculated tables, as in diving or gymnastics)
  5. Degree of difficulty in buying, based on a number of factors including variety in the category, necessary prep or alterations, need for financing, ability to self-serve or availability of salespeople, body shape and size (for clothing), etc.

For example:

  • Purchasing a Hamilton Beach drip coffee maker for $19.99 in 5 minutes at Target might not score as high as purchasing DeLonghi espresso maker for $166.73 at Williams Sonoma in 15 minutes.  The quality difference is evident and getting the focus of the snooty salesperson in Williams Sonoma is a struggle.
  • If the category is snacks, buying gourmet chips and salsa for $10 might (or might not) beat out Reese’s peanut butter cups grabbed at the register for $1.75.  Depends on the specifics of the competition and the taste buds of the judges.
  • If two men buy the same suit for the same price at the same store in the same elapsed time, but one requires alterations and the other doesn’t, the one with alterations will win every time.

I compete in Surgical Shopping every time I make a purchase.  For example, I bought two pairs of shoes yesterday at Nordstrom in about 20 minutes.  It took five minutes to browse and select the shoes I wanted.  The salesperson took five minutes to find the shoes (which would have really caused a problem in getting a medal).  It took about 7 minutes to find the right pair, as the first size didn’t fit.  Lastly, it took about three minutes at the cash register, slowed by a faulty credit card reader and confusion about the price. If this had been the Olympics, my only hope would have been points for the quality of the shoes, the quality of the store, and the returnability and refundability, which isn’t always available with shoes but is at Nordstrom.

If ESPN 8, “The Ocho” really existed, I’m sure this would be in prime time.  It would open up competition to a whole new set of athletes, who think they are the only ones that can buy a new car during halftime of a football game or a tuxedo with alterations the day before a wedding.

Just imagine Brent Musburger – “You are looking live at the Mall of America just outside Minneapolis where, despite the freezing temperatures, 100 of the world’s best surgical shoppers are ready for what only can be described as the Surgical Shopping competition from hell. May the best shopper win!”

Credit Cards I Don’t Need Just for the Bonus Points

I’ve applied for and gotten two new credit cards this week.  In doing so, I joined the hundreds of thousands of people who play a game called “how many points can I collect by signing up for new credit cards?”

There is an entire sub-culture of people who know how to earn frequent flyer or frequent stayer points to make travel exciting, comfortable, and free.  Some of these folks frequent Inside Flyer or Milepoint or FlyerTalk.  Others provide free advice on blogs at sites like Boarding Area.

I’ve always ensured that I maximize my points.  I try to fly the same airline (Delta) as much as possible. I’ve already achieved Delta Platinum Medallion, which won’t expire until February 2014.  Because of three trips to Asia in the past two years, the family and I are going to Hawaii over Christmas, all on frequent flyer tickets.  But, I hadn’t, until this week, started playing the frequent flyer credit card bonus game.

Mrs. Spidey and I carry very few cards.  We’ve got American Express and a Southwest Airlines Visa.  We’ve also got a Best Buy card, a Kohl’s card and a Nordstrom card, because of the specific benefits at those stores, and a Hilton American Express, because when you spend a bucket load of money on a bar mitzvah and a bat mitzvah at a Hilton property, getting 5 frequent stayer points per dollar is just awesome.  But, in reality, we only really use the AMEX and the Southwest Airlines Visa.

I’ve know about credit card offers for a while.  When each of us got the Southwest Airlines Visa, we got 2 round-trip tickets each as a sign-up bonus.  However, I never wanted to expand card use.  The tipping point for me was realizing that the lowest fare to visit my parents at Thanksgiving is $344 per person and being frustrated at not having points.  Even with my travel, I need more points.

So, this week, I applied for and got instant approval for two new cards, which, based on folks at those blogs above, are  the two best cards.  You should look yourself.

First, I signed up for a Chase Sapphire Preferred card.  For signing up and spending $2,000 in the first three months, I get 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points, which transfer 1:1 to United, Southwest, Hyatt, Marriott and British Airways, among others.  The card also gives you a 7% bonus at the end of the year on top of all the points you’ve earned.

Then, I signed up for the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express.  With this card, I get 10,000 points after my first purchase and another 20,000 if I spend 5,000 in the first five months.  The beauty of SPG points is that they aren’t just for rooms, but, like AMEX’s Membership Rewards and Chase’s Ultimate Rewards, you can transfer to airlines programs 1:1 – and SPG has many more airline partners.

As noted, these two cards are routinely cited at the two best cards for travelers to accumulate points.  Approval was easy.  And, now, our Southwest Visa will be canceled and cut up.

If you go down this route, don’t forget to have your spouse apply for a separate card and get his or her own card and own bonus.  You can actually refer your spouse for the Starwood AMEX, and he/she will get 5,000 extra points.  The cards don’t care where you transfer points, so you can combine the points into a single account for maximum use.

And, one last thing – this frequent flyer/frequent stayer sub-culture is endless.  Dive in deep and make it a game, and you will end up with some amazing free vacations.



Todd Akin Makes a Name for Himself – and Paul Ryan

I couldn’t have imagine writing a post about Todd Akin before yesterday. Now, it’s a must.

I moved to Chesterfield, Missouri over 10 years ago, and, candidly, I never really paid attention to who my congressman was/is. Only in the past few years, did I realize that my congressman is a very, very right wing conservative. I voted against him every two years like clockwork, but he got elected anyway.

I knew there was a Republican primary for senator only because of the local television commercials that ran over and over and over for Akin, Dave Spence, and Sarah Steelman. I was out of town when Akin won and didn’t even know for a few days afterward that he did.

Now – everyone knows him. He’s all over the web and television. Heck, he’s even on the front page of the Financial Times’ website. Yes – Akin has made a name for himself globally.

In the end, Todd Akin has done himself harm, the Republicans harm, and the Democrats good. Claire McCaskill ran commercials telling folks how conservative Akin was and helped to get him elected, knowing that he’d make a starker comparison and an easier components. She got what she wanted.

Yes, the Republicans now have a problem in Missouri – a senate seat they hoped to pick up. The real problem, however, may lie with the presumed VP nominee Paul Ryan. Akin’s verbal nightmare opens the door for some questions.

Tell us Mr. Ryan – do you believe that abortion should be allowed in cases of rape? What’s that?

No.  You can’t change your mind, but I guess it’s too late.

It Was Over a Year Ago

I woke up this morning thinking knowing that it had been a very long time since I had posted to my blog.  I thought it might be exactly a year.  I was disappointed to learn that it has, in fact, been a year and 11 days.  You can see that just below this post.

That’s depressing.  I do like writing.  Why the gap?  Many reasons, I guess.  

The regular job takes up a lot of time.  It’s difficult to come up with topics.  The posts take too much time.  Twitter and message boards have replaced the blog for communications. (However, I still don’t use Facebook.)

I’m getting myself organized a bit more these days.  My desk at work is free of papers.  My personal email only has four in the Inbox.  I’m deleting myself from marketing emails and, as soon as I finish this, I’m going to clean off my desk at home.

I’m hopeful that getting organized means more time for writing.  Shorter posts, definitely.  A more consistent theme, perhaps.  I don’t know.  My interests haven’t shifted – travel, hockey, organizational behavior, family.

I can only hope that I won’t be writing you again on August 19, 2013 with the same thoughts.