Goodbye, New York Times

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.

finalNYT

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?

tags: , ,
  • http://www.stapleton-gray.com Ross Stapleton-Gray

    It’s not widely known, but Barbara Bain (“Mission Impossible,” “Space 1999″) lost a dog in a tragic accident, when a copy of the LA Times thrown by a delivery boy landed on it and crushed it to death. So there’s that.

  • http://blog.museway.com marco

    I believe it’s a transition period. We know well where we are, on the printed paper, but we are absolutely not sure where we are going to land.
    While the information per se is ready to be digital, the medium, the tool where this digital information could be accessed, lacks its final form.
    The whole system, publishers-information-tools, has to find new metaphors and concepts to achieve its final form.
    It is utterly true that the paper isn’t as immediate as the digital distribution, but it is pervasive. it could be found everywhere, it can be used by everyone and it is the simpler way to read some news, by an usability point of view it suffices to look and read.
    The digital version has much more potential, but it has to develop a system able to reproduce the printed version features while adding its own, as for example the chance to obtain the information in real-time or the chance to shift the focus from a system which spends its effort on distributing the news to one which empowers the readers to find the ones they really want or need.
    While I have my ideas on how to resolve this, and I’m working on it, it will be interesting to see how the big ones are going to resolve this.

  • http://radar.oreilly.com/jimmy Jimmy Guterman

    On the other hand, Ross, a few months ago a truck driver survived a bad highway accident because his cab was full of newspapers. So newspapers can save lives, too!

  • http://djysrv.blogspot.com djysrv

    The “other” reason not to subscribe to the NY Times paper edition is that they can’t deliver it the same day it is printed. The Sunday Times came on Tuesday, and the daily papers for M-Th showed up as a group on Thursday. After numerous complaints to a markedly indifferent customer service organization, I cancelled my print subscription. I think you have to live in an “elite” Manhattan zip code to get the paper delviered the same day it is published :-)

  • Pat O'Neill

    I can’t say I’m happy to envision the end of the printed newspaper.

    For one thing, many people just find on-screen reading uncomfortable or difficult.

    For another, on-line reading means you really only see the stuff you started out looking for. You search the on-line issue for the things that interest you, you don’t browse and see something that you might never have known you’d be intrigued by. That kind of self-selection of the news can only further balkanize our culture, IMO.

  • Arwen O'Reilly

    I just reduced my subscription down to Sunday only, so I mourn with you. I wasn’t able to give that pleasure up (yet). The Times did try an online subscription fee (remember Times Select?), but clearly it didn’t work. Newspapers used to be more up to date; they had a morning and afternoon edition, and sometimes a special edition. So maybe some other form of “newspaper” will rise up. Or maybe the New York Times will go back to being a local paper, at least as far as print goes.

  • http://theabstracttruth.wordpress.com/ bob Pasker
  • David Sklar

    I wonder what the Times’ sales/subscription stats are for NYC-metro-area vs. elsewhere. Subscribing to the NYT and living in NYC produces an entirely different experience — it certainly doesn’t fill a “breaking news” need (as a commenter noted above), but for news analysis, local coverage, arts and listings, and all sorts of other little bits and pieces, the form factor and interface of the online version pales.

    Everyone has their “can you read the online version *here*” analogy, whether it’s the breakfast table, the toilet or the subway and the teeny Kindle or even a laptop screen can’t compete. I can do the crossword puzzle from the print edition standing up on a crowded subway car, I can glance at the upper-right-hand corner of the front page to see whether I need an umbrella before I head out the door, etc. The print edition is a hi-res (mostly) full-color lightweight flexible completely portable display.

    Much of this is NYC-centric, both in terms of size and organization; this may not be a survival strategy that works for a lot of other papers. But there are a lot of aspects of the dynamics of NYC urban life that a digital version of the paper will not be able to compete with until significant changes in display technology are ubiquitous and cheap.

  • Drew

    Kind of a side point, but maybe its just the distribution model is a little tired and overspent on a newspaper. Anyone think an open hardware printer might be a nice fit? I dont think it would be too hard to create a black & white printer that prints on cheap, big rolls of big brown paper.

    Create some open source printer with an edge/wifi module that lets you pull down a pdf or some sort of a newspaper and print it automatically for your in the morning. I did a little googling and didn’t find anyone trying to make an open source printer. Anyone know of any project or person trying to do this?

  • Anon

    Newspaper makes up 13% of all trash in landfills.

    ^^ true stat.

    I don’t think they will survive. The average newspaper reader is over 60, literally a dying breed. As they cut back and cut back, their product becomes worth less and less. Newspapers have already abandoned investigative reporting, one of their most useful functions. As they just become places to reprint wire stories, and as the pre-internet generation dies out, well…

    I expect they’ll stay around in various forms. Free weeklies, with lots of ads, sure. USA Today will probably stick around, for hotel room and business traveler reading. But the newspaper as we know it is dead.

  • Frank Ch. Eigler

    Those of us who abhor the NYT salute you.

  • http://tungwaiyip.info/ Wai Yip Tung

    I have the similar epiphany when I reach the newspaper box (of S.F. Chronicle) and realize I have already read half of the stories online the day before. Indeed by the printed version hit the street, the online story may already have a heated discussion with over 100 comments posted. If I am not the 10 or hundred commenter I consider it too late to join the discussion.

  • http://www.riester-faq.de riester rente

    I also heard the story with the truck driver who survived a bad highway accident. Newspaper can save lives – but in my house the newspaper is a killing machine for the moskitos etc. :-)

  • http://www.savvyauntie.com Melanie Notkin

    On a similar note – nytimes.com needs to get better at Twitter. Their own Spitzer story was scooped on Twitter by BreakingNewsOn. Right now, they deliver headlines late and promote their blogs, pushing 5 Tweets at a time – and they make no connection with the Community. They are giving me NytimesBot and I want All The News That Fit to Twit.

    Nytimes was a fast mover with Web2.0. But now… they’re not getting Twitter. Talk about ‘unsub.’

  • http://grandcanyonhiker.com Ken McNamara

    The captcha entry failed – the system erased my comment.

    Is it a good idea to copy what you write before hitting the submit button?

  • http://grandcanyonhiker.com Ken McNamara

    What if the NYT ended physical publication and all their subscribers had to read their content it online?

    Has anyone attempted to calculate what the micropayment per article view would have to be for the NYT to make the same net income it makes today?

    Or is this the $64,000 question that all the newspaper publishers are asking.

    If you could subscribe online for a fraction of the cost of a physical subscription – would you?

    It’s looking more and more like we are going to lose the newspapers. That will be a real loss for all of us. They provide an information baseline in a professional manner – as a paid job.

    (Captcha did it again – this time I copied the comment before hitting submit.)

  • http://www.sikantis.net sikantis

    As everything in life also newspapers are changing. I like to think about life in basic steps. One newspaper is over and the other is already waiting. All we need is esteem, we and the newspapers.

  • http://blog.sharendipity.com Greg

    i can’t give up the sunday edition… one of the great pleasures in life. loafing on the couch listening to cbs sunday morning with a cup of coffee and the new york times.

  • Anon

    A highly pertinent article:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/26/us/politics/26bus.html

    Only a couple of newspapers are bothering to cover the Presidential election campaign directly. Article notes the costs may be $30,000/month. Leaving aside whether being “in the bubble” is good for reporting (it isn’t), nevertheless the case is being made that newspapers would rather regurgitate than report initially. Let someone else pay for reporting, we’ll just rewrite the wire story and avoid 99% of the expense……

  • Luke

    Goodbye, O’Reilly Radar

    Over the years, I’ve slowly weaned myself off individually visiting web sites and now only use a feed reader.

    Radar was a good feed that I read regularly but now that it has been truncated into a teaser its time to drop my subscription.

  • Todd

    I recently had the same sentimental “goodbye” to Blockbuster ( movies ) and physical music CDs. I said “goodbye” to printed newspapers years ago…

    I doubt I will miss them, I don’t miss FAX thermal paper or paper paychecks.

    Question: Would the availability of big format e-paper bring you back to reading the daily news?

    http://www.engadget.com/2007/05/14/lg-philips-announces-a4-color-e-paper/

  • Jennifer Palm-Ensign

    Regarding Luke’s comment above, the rss view has been restored to the former state of showing the full entry on a feed reader. Apologies for the inconvience.

  • Jack Pratt

    Print is dead. Long live print online. Books will survive, because they always survive media shifts. But magazines and newspapers will shrivel up and die. A handful will survive, and they will be those with long-form content that doesn’t work well online. To think otherwise is delusional. Look at what TV did to radio. Now amplify that 1,000 times, and you have what online is doing to print media.

  • http://ericmeyerson.com Eric

    Interesting… I just started a subscription to the SF Chronicle a few months ago. The newspapers depend on circ to make their ad revenue, and I still get some utility out of coupon-clipping, crosswords, and reading in places where you wouldn’t want to take a laptop.

    It’s unfortunate that the revenue model is so dependent upon paper advertising. I wish it weren’t so. But it is what it is, and if I want a newspaper to cover local issues, it’s my duty to pay for dead trees.

  • http://www.downtheavenue.com Renee Blodgett

    Hear hear Jimmy. This piece resonated with me so much I did a blog piece of my own that raises many of the same points you do – http://www.downtheavenue.com/2008/03/goodbye-new-yor.html AS well as the addition of the fact that ‘going ink’ is just too much work.

    It’s not just that that the news is too old. It’s the work involved and the fact that print is one dimensional, lacking the links to other juicy pieces of info that can supplement what you’re reading.

    Frankly, I miss the days when I really had time to dive into a big fat New York Times. All of it.

  • http://www.limnthis.com Jim Stogdill

    Anon’s comment about the inability of print media to fund reporters to follow campaigns is the interesting part to me.

    In some sense a newspaper in physical form or one online should be equally viable. Subscriptions were really just a mechanism to offset (some) printing cost and prove circulation to advertisers. Web servers make readership validation a lot easier to do, so the switch in medium should a non event. In the absence of other changes, newspapers should be looking at this as a benefit; just a cheaper distribution channel for their content engine.

    Maybe the real issue is that newspapers, online or otherwise, just aren’t as effective vehicles for advertising distribution as they used to be, at least in a relative sense. They still deliver ads pretty much the way they always have based on some geographic subscriber data, while the competition knows who your friends are, what hobbies you pursue, and what political party you favor (and their cost model doesn’t require them to do the pesky work of content creation). A rising tide raises all boats, but it sinks an island.

    Which takes me back to my first point. I enjoy finding news in blogs and on twitter and all kinds of other long tail locations. But I read the NYT because it has reporters and editors and a history that compels a thoughtfulness and consistency. I worry about the advertising equation becoming so unfavorable to the newspaper business model that, with or without physical distribution, their ability to produce high quality content will simply go away.

  • Ciaran

    Drew: Well that already happens. Or at least for me in CA – around 4am every day the Times gets electronically transmitted to an efficient printer in my locality, and then someone handilly leaves it on my doorstep. Oh, and they stamp the local weather on the front too.

    I think most of you are forgetting that you are living in the bubble too. I expect most Radar readers spend their days, if not their lives, in front of the computer, on the Internet. So the contents of today’s Times is old news to you, because you spent yesterday checking the headlines every fifteen minutes. A lot of people can’t or don’t want to do that.

  • steffi ray

    The news paper is dying, and what a sad day that will be when it does. I used it for the ads mostly, just wanting to see what is being sold and what not, but now every one is going to free classified ads site such as stumblehere.com. but i guess it help them more i just wish the news paper wasn’t dying out.

  • http://www.openlogic.com/blogs/2008/03/so-long-print-newspapers/ Greg

    I can sympathize with your point—-I’m a news junkie and a big fan of the printed word—-but a few years back I too realized that I was reading most of my news online while the print newspaper went straight to the recycling bin. However, while environmental concerns and the practicality of online news contributed to my decision to stop subscribing to the local paper, I have to admit that my primary motivation was an ever-increasing level of annoyance with the teenage subscription-sales reps that the Denver Newspaper Agency continually sends door-to-door through my neighborhood. Especially in the warmer months, you can find these kids trolling through the neighborhood at least once a week, and they’ll knock on your door whether or not you’re already a subscriber. Even more annoying is the fact that the Denver Newspaper Agency promises to award small “scholarships” to the kids that sell enough subscriptions, so they always deliver emotional pleas about how my subscription could help them get through college. I like to point out that it’s not a scholarship unless it’s awarded for scholastic merit or financial need and that they’d be better off getting a regular job, but the message doesn’t seem to resonate.

  • http://www.accountopedia.com/ Ajeet Khurana

    Jimmy, if you had discontinued NYT because you somehow hated it, I would be fine with it. But to abnegate the physical newpaper is scary. In a lighter vein, when are you giving up your real friends for your social networking buddies ? :) (kidding)

  • http://www.usarealtorsdirectory.com/ Realtor

    This is a BLESSING IN DISGUISE!
    I know we all will miss the NYT,
    It will save TREES and LIVES
    and less messy streets too!

  • Tammy A.

    Well, there’s something that you don’t get in a printed newspaper, and it’s a good thing too: a spam post! and it got through the captcha!

    Last year I gave up my WSJ subscription, which was my last remaining newspaper subscription. I got great satisfaction, after I heard Murdoch bought the WSJ, that not a cent of mine made it to his pocket. Not only do I get my information online (sfgate.com, in my case), I’ve seen a marked decrease in the quality of reporting and editing in the last 10-15 years.

    However, as mentioned in an earlier post, you do miss out on serendipitous finds and generally reading articles out of your normal comfort zone that might broaden one’s mind.

    I know the current L.A. Times is a mere shell of its former self, but I’ll always have fond memories of reading their articles of incredible length with several jump cuts during my college years.