By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Who needs paper?

Last night I did something I don’t think I’d ever done before. I hadn’t had a chance to spend much time with the Sunday Globe. But instead of grabbing the paper, I reached for my iBook.

Obviously this wasn’t the first time I’d read the Boston Globe online. But it was probably the first time I’d read it that way even though the paper version was close at hand. I simply didn’t want to fumble through the sections or get my hands dirty. I also wanted to be able to make the type bigger. And since the light in our living room isn’t ideal for reading, using my laptop enabled me to read on a screen that provides its own light.

As I observed a couple of days ago in my post on Ken Auletta’s latest, we may finally be reaching a tipping point. I’ll use our household as an example, and I don’t think we’re that unusual. We have a family iMac with a DSL connection that’s generally on 24 hours a day. The DSL modem is plugged into an AirPort base station, which transmits a WiFi signal throughout the house. Mrs. Media Nation and I each have an Apple laptop with built-in WiFi reception. So it’s effortless to take our laptops anywhere in the house and log on to the Web.

Combine that with the fact that newspaper Web sites are now good enough to become real alternatives to their print counterparts, and the need for a newspaper is beginning to vanish.

Frankly, I’m not crazy about the Globe’s Web site. Many photos are omitted, stories are listed in no particular order, and the designers conspire at every turn to dump you into Boston.com, the Globe’s übersite. But some newspaper sites are better than print.

For instance, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina came during a week when I lacked ready access to the print version of the New York Times. Every morning I’d spend about an hour on a public computer at Northeastern, reading the Times’ coverage – and looking intently at the photos, which were brilliant and on-register in a way that print can rarely achieve, and organized into Flash-based slide shows. Given how attractive and well-organized NYTimes.com is, it’s starting to become difficult to justify the $600 (plus $180 or so in tips) that we spend each year on the print edition. That’s a heck of a lot more than the $60 a year the Times is now charging for online access to its columnists.

I’m also rethinking my print subscription to The New Republic. I’ve started to get renewal notices asking for upwards of $70. Yet if I subscribe to the digital edition only, it will cost me just $30. Moreover, I’ve already read this week’s edition online, and have yet to receive the print edition in the mail.

In today’s Times, both David Carr and Katharine Seelye have worthwhile features on the increasingly digital future of the troubled newspaper business. After years of hype, it’s starting to feel like the future is finally here.


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3 Comments

  1. Jeff's Take...

    This is an important piece, and on target. Think we have passed the tipping point. I’ve been reading the NY Times for several years on-line and never feel I am missing anything. In fact, the site updates breaking news throughout the day, posts weekend and other material early, and there are additional videos, slide shows, and features simply not available in the print version. I also look at the Globe on-line from time to time, but find it generally as unsatisfactory as the over the counter version. (There are, of course, many other newspaper sites available, along with magazines of every name and type, so it is possible to sort through and pick favorites.

  2. Anonymous

    Dan your point is well taken. I think you’re a little ahead of the trend though, hardware-wise. We have two computers each with dual monitors in the basement. But they are not portable. We have a noisy laptop that can’t pick up the wireless router’s signal beyond the basement.I sit in front of the computers enough already. So for now the portability of the Globe’s print version still wins–till we buy the next round of hardware. The trend is obvious though–it really does look like the hardcopy versions will die in a few years, as people upgrade their equipment.Meanwhile I don’t like the online Globe either. Where are the funnies? The link is to comics at boston.com where there are only a few.

  3. Michael

    While some may agree, I don’t — totally. For the most part, most of America doesn’t have the computer and broadband access you describe. While the tech is great, we can’t go full bore (for several more years), or risk alienating a substantial portion of the population.Unlike marketers, newspapers target EVERYONE — rich, poor, black, white, yellow, red, blue and green. So, newspapers will be playing both sides of the digital fence for some time.Mike

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