Dilbert Picked My Pocket (Or, How I Know The Print Industry Is Completely Fucked)

The print media industry is completely, 100% fucked. How do I know?

They've resorted to pick-pocketing.

First, a little history:

Back when online comics were a relatively new thing and Dilbert creator Scott Adams pretty much scared the shit out of the syndicates by putting every single Dilbert cartoon up on his site for free, Universal and other syndicates panicked. They went and got what they considered "smart" about digital delivery and set up Uclick, a subscription service where - for a small fee (back then, $10 bucks a year) you could subscribe to any or all of their comics, columns or puzzles and have them emailed to you daily. It was pretty great - a simple system that was relatively cheap that would consolidate for me all the stuff I wanted to read.

But then, two things happened: 1) RSS and 2) I wanted to read less and less of their crap.

At first, RSS struck me as a convenience. I didn't really see the need to go set up feeds from all the providers just to get my funnies. Cool idea, but too much of a hassle to really use. Besides, Uclick was doing this for me really easily, I didn't have to fuss around with finding what I wanted anymore - I already set that up day one, and now Dilbert and Catbert and Dogbert and that retarded kid from Zitz were all partying in my inbox, every morning. I probably had 25 - 30 strips I read back then.

Then, the strips started sucking, and I found myself skipping one, then two, then 10 or so at a time. Around that time, RSS began becoming simpler to use - you could click an icon and boom, an RSS feed would open in your reader and subscribe itself. Easy.

So one day, when Fox Trot was the only comic I was reading without sighing with disappointment, I just cancelled my stupid Uclick thing and moved on to RSS, where I took one and only one comic with me - Fox Trot.

That was 2002.

Fast-forward to today, August 4, 2009 when, for a reason I'm assuming they thought was worth it (if you consider anything worth stealing for), UClick pulled a clever little trick I call "forgiveness is easier to get than permission" and sent this email:

Subject: Your Scheduled Payment has been Processed
Date: Tue, 04 Aug 2009 05:11:10 -0700 (PDT)
From: support@uclick.com
To: joe@joethepeacock.com

Congratulations! Your subscription (GoComics.com, uPuzzles.com, or Comics Sherpa) was successfully renewed this morning. This charge will appear as UCLICK LLC on your credit card statement.


Order Number: EXJE4A19ADC1
Authorization Code: 111141
Transaction Date: 04-Aug-09 05:11 AM
Transaction Amount: 11.95
Comment: 247793
Response: Approved


If you have any questions regarding your account, please feel free to reply to this email.

Uclick Customer Service

The problem? I cancelled my subscription back in 2002.

Now, the big rub is that a few years ago, credit cards began a policy where, if you authorized any sort of automatic subscription or automated payment, the charge would continue to go through until you cancelled it - even if you cancelled the card or changed the number. And when I called AmEx, they explained that, yes, that card had been cancelled (it was a personal card I carried before I started my own company), but that the subscription was still authorized so they still charged it.


So I sent this in return:

From: Joe The Peacock [mailto:joethepeacock@gmail.com] On Behalf Of Joe Peacock

Sent: Tuesday, August 04, 2009 7:19 AM

To: uclick Support

Subject: Re: Your Scheduled Payment has been Processed

What the hell?? I haven't subscribed to this since 2002! How did this

get renewed? Please deactivate this immediately and credit whatever

card you used.

And they IMMEDIATELY replied:

Subject: RE: Your Scheduled Payment has been Processed

Date: Tue, 4 Aug 2009 09:09:41 -0500

From: uclick Support

To: 'Joe Peacock'


The account has been cancelled and refunded. This charge reversal will be listed on your next paper credit card statement.

We'd appreciate your feedback! Was there anything in particular about the service that you had problems with? What could we do to improve our service?

Please let us know.


UCLICK Support


Why, YES, there's something particular about the service I have a problem with! YOU JUST STOLE FROM ME!

It's evident to me what is going on here. We all know the industry is dying. They can't hide it anymore. They know they're completely fucked. So, they've basically resorted to auto-renewal of all dead memberships, counting on being able to apologize to and credit anyone who complains. Which, going by just about every modern convention we have, will be surprisingly few. On the surface, the outrage of being renewed without your permission on a subscription you cancelled should be sufficient to get you to yell.

But the price ($12.95) isn't high enough to cause immediate reaction, and the hassle (emailing or calling customer service) is just enough to make you want to handle it when you're not busy... Or, at the very least, handle it later. Which, for some people, turns into "next billing cycle" - and some of THOSE people will let it lapse again and again.

I just happen to be an incredibly confrontational, deal with it right-the-fuck-now types. Makes for an interesting marriage, and an even more interesting customer service experience. Even sitting in a hospital waiting room waiting for my mother-in-law to have surgery isn't enough to keep me from getting pissy about someone reaching into my wallet without so much as a sweet nothing whispered into my ear.

Print is desperate. The syndicates are dying. Their content is horrible, and they still haven't figured out how to actually maintain digital delivery in a sustainable way. And they're doing whatever they can to squeeze the last drops out of the turnip using a policy of begging for forgiveness and counting on our goodwill to say "Well, I did get my money back, so what's the harm?"

The harm is in the liberty they just took with my wallet -- A liberty only taken by the most desperate, who are almost too fatigued to keep balancing on that last leg and are about to fall over.