Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Farewell to print

I love The New York Times. I've read it almost every day of my life since I was in high school. For all its recent flaws -- the weirdo profiles of the major presidential candidates are the most high-profile -- it is still full of the most outstanding reporting. And, on the days that Gail Collins files, it offers up the most penetrating and entertaining opinion.


What's that? It's the last print copy of the Times I'll ever have delivered to my front door. Over the years, I've slowly weaned myself off subscriptions to physical newspapers, but it was hard to say no to the Times. The quality was high, the thump of the paper on the sidewalk was a pleasant sound to hear first thing in the morning, I liked the serendipity of walking through a print section, and I felt obligated to pay for the paper at a time when print subscribers were becoming an endangered species. But, after years of wavering, I'm done. The environmental argument alone should have been enough for me, but the simple fact is that I do more and more of my reading on a screen (the only holdouts: fiction and poetry). And plenty of that reading has been from the Times. What finally made me give in to the inevitable was realizing, one barely-dawn morning last week when I was reading the paper at our kitchen table, that I had already read much (most?) of it online. For all the pleasure of holding and print, the Times on paper is just too late. In 2008, today's paper is yesterday's news.

So now I'm a freeloader, although you could argue that my personal information, sent to the Times in return for a username and password, may have some value. I rarely, if ever, click on an ad on the Times's website. I would gladly pay for the pleasure and convenience of reading the paper online, just as I do for The Wall Street Journal, but I don't have that option. In this era of advertising-is-the-only-business-model, management at the Times Company has decided that I've decided that the value of what it sends to me is zero. I disagree -- and I'm not going to pay a premium for the proprietary and little-used Times Reader to make my point.

I'll miss the paper on paper, and I bet I'll buy it when I'm on vacation, as a treat, an indulgence. But if even people like me -- who adore The New York Times -- can no longer justify a print subscription, how can its print version survive, except as a high-priced, scarce product for an increasingly elite audience?

(This originally appeared on the O'Reilly Radar.)



Blogger Brian said...

Ambivilant, not really.

I tried to forgo the ink/paper version of the NYTimes for a couple of years, as well as t/WSJ. I did this four a couple of years. It worked ok but ultimately fell short for me.

When I read the online version, and I even tried the odd Times Reader, I was absolutely certain that I read everything I absolutely had to read.

Except I didn't.

For me, it all came down to the NYTimes' Metropolitan Diary. When I read the paper online, I never read the Metropolitan Diary on Monday eventhough it's "there" on the tube and readily available. When I ready the inky version of the newspaper, I always, always, always read the Metropolitan Diary and inevitably clip it and send it to a dear friend who also lives beyond the pale, out in NYC's diaspora.

With the Wall Street Journal, I'll end up reading the political reporting in the inky edition and never read it on the tube.

Another angle in on this is whether or not the medium is "actionable." So, when I read something on the tube, I can clip it and paste it and link it and send it and comment on it and del.icio.us it and it all ends up in some sort of metaflow/life that's aggregates on Facebook or whatever. And that's a good thing. I like it.

However, I have this little piece of red plastic I acquired from Levengers and it has a barb on it and it slices newspaper with made skills. And I know how to tear a newspaper page. It has a grain to it and I.F.Stone always tore apart his newspapers to make them ... actionalable. And pieces of the newspaper are sometimes folded around a correspondence card, sealed in an envelope and tossed into the bluemetal maw of the USPS and it goes bobbing along on the waves until it reaches the clean sandy shore of a friend. And I think about how it's a little present, prssent, it has substance and texture and may even have an odd aroma to it and the stamps are little pieces of art too. It is present, a real thing.

Now, I like trees as much as anyone else. I think it's terrific that tress make the air breathable for us and it is truly a blessing to rest in the shade of a tree on a hot day. (And I never climbed trees but am the father of two girls who do.) So, I believe the trees deserve a break.

But I can't read the tube (yet) when I'm on the train and I learned newspaper origami to make the broad sheet slender so I can read it on the R train from Queens to midtown without breeching my neighbor's space.

I don't like how the ink stains my fingertips, but it washes off and given that this is the worst of the occupational hazards I face every day, it isn't so bad.

And what about the crossword?

Anyway, I admire you (as usual) for showing us the way and all of the above is my excuse for lingering in the back of the pack.

March 28, 2008 12:38 PM  

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