The huge variations in Denver Post subscription costs

In "Loss of Rocky Mountain News Doesn't Add Up to Big Subscription Savings -- But I'm Not Complaining," a March 10 blog, I wrote about receiving a card from the Denver Post letting me know that my "premium dual publication" subscription rate from the days when I received both the Post and the Rocky would be going down in the wake of the Rocky's closure, but not by anything resembling 50 percent. Indeed, the total only shrank from $170.65 to $133.95. And yet, compared to the $408 per annum Massachusetts residents pay to receive the Boston Globe, I felt fortunate.

A funny thing happened after the blog's publication, however. I started hearing from Denver metro residents who were forking over less than me for the Post -- in many cases, a lot less. And figuring out why has been about as easy as understanding why Taylor Hicks once ruled as America's idol.

I first subscribed to the Rocky and the Post in the early '90s, shortly after my hiring by Westword, and I don't remember letting either subscription lapse since then. So I naturally assumed I was getting the lowest rate possible -- which soon proved to be one of those make-an-ass-out-of-you-and-me situations. First off, here's the text of the card I received:

Notice of change in subscription terms:

Dear Michael Roberts,

The closing of the Rocky Mountain News means there is a change in your subscription, as you used to receive our premium dual publication service. Your subscription rate was $170.65 for 48 weeks with an expiration date of 5/22/2009. With the elimination of the Monday through Friday Rocky Mountain News we have extended your expiration date to 6/14/2009 and adjusted your rate to $133.95.

We hope you will be pleased to find many of your favorite Rocky columnists and writers will now be in The Denver Post. In addition, the Post will also be incorporating all of the Rocky's comic and many of its puzzles.

Please feel free to contact our customer service department at 303-832-3232.

Before long, another "premium dual publication" subscriber revealed that I wasn't getting a tremendous bargain. This person received a card whose wording was identical to mine with a few significant exceptions: The previous rate listed was $109.95 for 52 weeks with an expiration date of October 10, 2009, and the price would be going down to $79.95 with a new expiration date of January 2, 2010.

That's a big difference, and it made me wonder if I was being punished for living in the suburbs -- the Ken-Caryl Ranch area, to be specific -- as opposed to the downtown area, where the source above resides. But things only got more confusing when I touched base with a person who paid "premium dual publication" rates at two different addresses in the Denver area. The charge for two papers in the 80111 zip code was $120.95 for 52 weeks, but was lowered to $99.95, with a subscription extension of two weeks -- again, significantly better than the price I was paying. In contrast, the cost of the Rocky and the Post in the 80206 zone was $185.65 for 48, reduced to $149.95 for the Post alone -- considerably worse.

I was growing steadily more confused -- and my bafflement only increased when I perused the data assembled by a reader who polled neighbors and acquaintances about what they were paying. Here's that information, complete with the term of subscription, the overall price, the weekly price and notes about particulars:

Subscriber 1: 12-week term -- $54.95 -- $4.58 -- Used to get both papers Subscriber 2: 12-week term -- $54.95 -- $4.58 -- Used to get both papers Subscriber 3: 48-week term -- $179.95 -- $3.75 -- Used to get both papers Subscriber 4: 12-week term -- $39.60 -- $3.30 -- Used to get both papers Subscriber 5: 52-week term -- $129.95 -- $2.50 -- Got the Post only Subscriber 6: 48-week term -- $179.95 -- $3.75 -- Used to get both papers Subscriber 7: 52-week term -- $60 -- $1.15 -- Post only -- likely promotional rate Subscriber 8: 48-week term -- $179.95 -- $3.75 -- Used to get both papers Subscriber 9: 52-week term -- $165 -- $3.17 -- Got the Post only

In an attempt to get to the bottom of these disparities, I e-mailed Jim Nolan, spokesman for the Denver Newspaper Agency, who took several days to get back to me. In the interim, my Post was late several days in a row, arriving after I had to leave for work -- so I phoned the circulation department to find out what was going on (turns out the carrier quit) and if I could be credited for those days (yes). While I was on the phone, however, I mentioned the difference between my rate and that of the first person noted above -- the $79.95 per year subscriber.

The rep put me on hold in order to speak with a supervisor, and when she returned, she told me the first price represented a senior rate. When I told her the person receiving it isn't a senior (which is true), she didn't quite know how to respond. She did say, however, that I was receiving the lowest rate other than the amount offered to new subscribers -- $119.95 per year, with a bonus $10 grocery card to King Soopers, Safeway or Albertsons. She couldn't simply readjust my rate, though. I'd have to cancel the paper, then resubscribe thirty days later.

I haven't taken this tack, and it's probably good that I didn't given the subsequent statement provided by the DNA's Nolan:

Every subscriber account is different because it depends on what promo offer and frequency the customer started with, where they are on the pricing rung, and in some cases whether they took both papers at once. To your question about canceling for a better deal, promo offers are only for folks with no recent subscriber history.

Based on this info, there probably won't be a King Soopers card in my future even if I temporarily pull the plug, despite what the Post rep told me. So I guess I'll go back to feeling superior to people in Boston. After all, there are plenty of people in Denver who should feel superior to me -- for favored subscription rates and a slew of other reasons. But that's another story...

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