For years, print newspapers have been trying increasingly desperate measures to boost revenue, but the latest ploy by the MLive Media Group breaks new ground: taking subscribers’ money without their permission.

MLive, parent company of the Ann Arbor News and seven other newspapers around the state, recently sent a letter to paid subscribers of its print editions. “Thank you for subscribing … as an Easy Pay Customer,” the letter began. “Please read below for important information about your subscription account.”

The “important information” seemed innocuous enough at first. “On Sunday, September 18, a 100-page Investment and Retirement Guide will be delivered with your [newspaper]. This is the first of up to four (4) ‘premium editions,’ in addition to the premium Thanksgiving Day edition, that will be delivered with your Sunday newspaper throughout the year and applied to your subscription account. Advance notice of premium edition delivery will be provided in the newspaper.”

No big deal, right? One more insert to make the Sunday paper even more bulky. And it was nice of MLive to point out that “four” means “(4).” But what did “applied to your subscription account” mean?

The second-to-last paragraph of the letter says that “$2.99 will be applied to your subscription account for the Investment and Retirement Guide and for each of the other premium editions; and $3.00 will be applied to your subscription account for the Thanksgiving Day edition.”

Wait a minute. They’re going to charge me $2.99 each for these “premium edition” inserts I didn’t ask for and most likely don’t want? And they’re going to charge me $3–the extra penny seems somehow most galling–for the Thanksgiving Day paper that I’m already paying for?

Yes, although they are trying to sneak that by their loyal subscribers. “There will not be an additional charge to your credit/debit card or checking account for these premium edition charges,” the letter says. “However, since the charge is applied to your subscription account balance, it will shorten your paid-through date so that the next charge comes about sooner.”

Clever. And diabolical. I wouldn’t be paying any more, but my subscription would run out sooner. So, in fact, I would be paying more, and for something I didn’t want. The cost of four “premium editions,” plus the Thanksgiving Day paper, would be about $16, roughly what I pay for two months of home delivery. It was as if Netflix told me that instead of movies for two months, I’d get a set of steak knives.

This was the last straw. I called to cancel my subscription. After waiting on hold for several minutes, I was connected to a live (MLive) person who asked how she could help me.

“I’d like to cancel my subscription,” I said pleasantly.

“I can’t hear you!” she shouted angrily. “I CAN’T … HEAR … YOU!” And she hung up.

Undaunted by this novel customer-�xADretention strategy, I called back. After more time on hold, a different woman asked how she could help. When I said I wanted to cancel, she said she would transfer me to an “agent” who could help me.

I told the “agent” I wanted to cancel my subscription. After verifying my address and phone number, she asked why I wanted to cancel. “All I do is take the paper from the front door and carry it through the house to the recycling bin in the garage,” I said. “I’ve been paying you to do that for years.” What I didn’t say was that I would have gone on blindly paying them $8 a month if only they hadn’t made me so angry.

“May I ask how you plan to get your local news now?” she asked.

I was tempted to tell her I planned to continue to do what I’d been doing, which was to read several different news sources online. But I didn’t. “Ummm, no,” I said. “You can’t.”

But she wouldn’t give up. She asked if I was interested in just the Sunday paper, adding that they offered a Sunday-only subscription.

“No thanks,” I said quickly.

“May I ask why?”

Well, she’d asked. “Because you don’t have any recent news in your Sunday paper,” I said.

A bit of an exaggeration, but it felt good to say. It felt wonderful to say.

Sensing the exasperation in my voice, she said she would cancel my subscription on September 4 (four).