Channel 2 Investigates: Houston Chronicle billing issues

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Many of you still start your day with coffee and the local paper. But some Houston Chronicle customers called consumer expert Amy Davis when they noticed some funny business with their subscriptions. Most customers Davis spoke with describe the same scenario: They paid for a year-long subscription, but they begin receiving notices that it's time to renew after only 9 months.

Shailesh Vyas has subscribed to the Chronicle more than 15 years; but he says the paper started taking more money out of his bank account each month with no notice.

"We like to keep in touch with what's going on," said Vyas, explaining to Davis why he subscribes to the Chronicle. 

Just as Vyas faithfully reads the business section each day, his wife keeps track of the family's finances. She noticed some funny business in the withdrawals the Houston Chronicle was making from their bank account. Their usual $26 a month subscription went up to $30 in july. In September, it was $35. That's an almost 35% increase in 4 months.

"Well, what's going on here?" Vyas asked. "Why is the rate increase so high?" 

He's not the only one asking. The Houston Better Business Bureau has received 304 complaints in the last three years. 119 of those were about "billing and collection issues".

"Basically their terms and conditions state that they do have the right to change the cost and charge more if needed," explained the BBB's Susan Burdick.

The Houston Chronicle is a member of the BBB (hyperlink to: http://www.bbb.org/houston/business-reviews/newspaper-distributors/houston-chronicle-publishing-in-houston-tx-4743#reasonrating); and Burdick says the Chronicle has responded to all of the complaints.

"They've been very, very cooperative," she said. "They respond pretty rapidly." And she says the Chronicle has credited customers who have complained.

They also straightened out the bills for two customers we forwarded to a Chronicle spokesman, but he wouldn't answer the questions we emailed him. Burdick says the extra charges are for special sections and premium issues that cost the Chronicle more to publish. The paper automatically passes those charges along unless you opt out of receiving them. The problem is that customers don't know the extra content costs them more money.

"We thought they were just supplements that came with the paper, so a lot of times, we just trashed them," said Vyas.

There is an online form you can fill out to opt out of receiving the Sports Nation magazine each week (hyperlink to: http://marketing.chron.com/tsnopt-out); but to opt out of all of the special sections they send out throughout the year, you have to call the Chronicle at (713) 362-7211.

The hours are Mon-Fri 5:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Sat-Sun 7:30-11 a.m.

You can also contact the Houston Chronicle Dispute Resolution line. 713-362-2222 Mon-Fri 8 a.m.-5 p.m. or email at callback@chron.com. Ask them to send you an email confirmation that you have opted out.

KPRC does have a business relationship with the Houston Chronicle. Channel 2 produces the television version of Texas Sports Nation, which airs Sunday nights.


About the Author:

Passionate consumer advocate, mom of 3, addicted to coffee, hairspray and pastries.