Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Newspapers, the economy... and us

Remember how I moaned here about the bleak future of newspapers? Recently I saw this piece in TIME about how newspapers could reinvent themselves financially in the wake of the double whammy of the Internet and the recession. The problem is, of course, that most newspapers' web sites are free, so why pay for 12-hour-old stories on soggy newsprint? And no one wants the expense or hassle of paying per article, even if the actual cost is pennies. Perhaps no one wants to go first in charging a fee, no matter how small and convenient, when just about everything on the web is free and there are zillions of people perfectly willing to provide that content with little or no compensation. Banner ads and popups may make a newspaper's web site itself profitable, but they certainly aren't making enough to subsidize the red ink of the print editions. Newspapers have to pull off something like Apple did with iTunes -- convince people to pay for something online where before they'd blithely downloaded the stuff (albeit illegally) for free. The idea of micro-charges for web content has never taken off for whatever reason. However, iStock, from which my workplace buys photos has a pretty good system whereby you make one decent-size payment for, say 50 credits, then you have credits deducted from your account as you buy images over time with different charges depending on the image (e.g., large images cost more credits). I don't see why newspapers couldn't sell blocks of 50 credits, with a short article costing one or two while a big magazine piece would five credits, for example.

But all that is really an aside. I was recalling my earlier posts, including the one where I expressed alarm at how both Detroit papers are putting out full print editions only three days a week now. Well, guess what? Given our new family finances in the wake of Ben's layoff last week, I went to the Boston Globe site... and cut our own newspaper subscription so it will be delivered only Thursday through Sunday. Saturday/Sunday was not an option, though I would probably have taken it if it was (the only other choice was Sunday only).

You know what I'll miss the most about the weekday papers? The only thing they don't have in one place online: comics. Just a few months ago, the Globe started running daily comics in color in a magazine-size insert, which I love, not least because the Globe has always had the best collection of strips of any paper I've seen. So what did I do? I set up a bookmarks tab on my Netvibes page (which I use as my browser's home page) and filled it with links to all the comics I like, which can be seen individually on the sites of various syndicates or (in some cases) the comic's standalone site, like Zippy the Pinhead and a couple others. And even this is a stopgap until I learn the ins and outs of RSS feeds so I don't have to manually go from one comic web site to the next each day. It's still not the same as colored newsprint spread out on your kitchen table, but in this economy, something had to be sacrificed... and this time, I'm sorry to say it was the newspaper, even if for just three days of the week.

1 comment:

Eleanor said...

Another thing about newsprint vs. reading the news online: with a newspaper, you're scanning all the headlines, getting a sense of everything going on and its relative importance in the grand scheme of things. If you read news online, you're only seeing stories you're interested in, without much context. (Okay, I have a vested interest in newspapers continuing to exist.)

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