A proposed class action alleges the owner of The Columbus Dispatch has unlawfully altered customers’ fixed-length subscriptions by sending out unsolicited “premium” editions in lieu of the regular newspaper. According to the complaint, defendant GateHouse Media Ohio Holdings II has effectively decreased the length of proposed class members’ subscriptions, which have already been paid for, based on the supposed value of the premium editions and on subscription agreements that are “constantly being revised without notice” or consent from customers.
“In most instances, these so-called premium editions have no connection to the subscriptions to the Dispatch—the item for which those customers agree to pay—and are all but worthless,” the lawsuit alleges.
The case states that the premium editions fail to provide “greater value” than The Dispatch’s regular issues. Moreover, premium editions of The Dispatch have little to do with the paper’s normal news reporting, according to the lawsuit, and can take the form of puzzle books, calendars, a dog magazine, and cookbooks. According to the case, the defendant uses the cost of these premium issues to arbitrarily shorten customers’ fixed-length subscriptions. For example, the lawsuit states that a subscriber who originally paid for 52 weeks’ worth of issues might only receive 30 weeks or less of the regular publication, depending on the number of premium editions sent out.
Although GateHouse supposedly leans on its terms of sale as the basis for sending out premium issues, the case argues that these terms define The Dispatch as the product to be delivered—and not the premium editions. The lawsuit alleges the defendant failed to properly disclose to customers that premium issues would decrease the length of the subscription and are not optional. From the case:
“Upon information and belief, at all relevant times, The Dispatch’s terms of sale defined the ‘product’ subject to the subscription agreements as the delivery of The Dispatch, not the delivery of premium editions.
GateHouse breached those fixed-length subscription agreements by failing to deliver The Dispatch (the ‘product’) for the agreed-upon length at the agreed-upon price based on GateHouse’s issuance of premium editions.”
Further, GateHouse has frequently and unilaterally revised its terms of sale, which the lawsuit claims has allowed the company to inflate the price and frequency of premium issues. More from the complaint:
“Further, GateHouse, through its modification of its terms of sale, unilaterally establishes (1) inflated prices for these premium editions (currently nine dollars per premium edition); and (2) the frequency of these premium editions (currently, up to 3 per month, or 36 per year).”
GateHouse began increasing the price and frequency of TheDispatch’s premium additions after acquiring the newspaper in 2015, the case states. For instance, in the earlier part of the decade, The Columbus Dispatch would reportedly send out just one premium edition, for which it charged $1.25, every year around Thanksgiving, according to the complaint.
By May 2019, the suit claims, the defendant sent out as many as three premium editions per month at a cost of up to $9 each. Accordingly, the cost for receiving these editions sky-rocketed to $324 per year, which the case claims is roughly equivalent to the cost of a full year’s subscription to daily issues of the newspaper.
Lastly, the lawsuit alleges the defendant has failed to make invoices available to customers to view online. Instead, GateHouse Media allegedly charges $9 for customers to view a paper copy of an invoice, which further shortens their subscriptions. The defendant also fails to bill separately for the premium issues, the suit claims, which means customers whose subscriptions renew automatically likely won’t recognize that they are receiving less than 52 weeks of the publication. The case claims these practices were designed to hide the extra charges related to premium editions that GateHouse Media added to customers’ accounts.
The complaint was originally filed in Ohio’s Franklin County Court of Common Pleas but has been removed to the Southern District of Ohio.