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

Nostalgia won’t pay the bills

Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Institute is creating a buzz by arguing that we all have a duty to buy the print editions of newspapers. He writes:

Until we create some new business models in support of the journalism profession, we’ve got to support what we have, even as we create and perfect online versions that may one day attract the advertising dollars and other revenues we need to do what we do well.

Needless to say, it’s not going to happen. Nor do I think it should. If newspaper executives have decided to give away their product online in the hopes that advertising will pay the bills, then we should take that at face value. By all means, get the print edition if you think it’s a better experience. But don’t be guilt-tripped into it.

I’m old-fashioned enough to want to read a good newspaper in a fairly comprehensive way and not get sucked into the search-engine approach to news. But when a newspaper Web site is well designed, I’m perfectly happy to read it on the Web rather than in print.

Besides, really good newspaper Web sites, such as the New York Times’, are better than print. Earlier this afternoon I watched Anthony Tommasini as he explained 12-tone music and played examples on his piano. It was pretty interesting stuff, but I still have no interest in reading the story.

Recently, as we all know, the Times dropped its paid online service, TimesSelect, on the theory that it can make more money through Web advertising.

I understand what Clark is saying. But no business ever succeeded by persuading people to pay for something they can get for free. We need to get to the point at which online newspapers are making enough money to support journalism. Embracing a dying model does nothing to move us closer to that day.

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  1. Esther

    “But no business ever succeeded by persuading people to pay for something they can get for free.”Hmmm, what about HBO? When you were growing up, did you ever think you’d be paying for tv? I didn’t. I think you have to give people something they can’t get anywhere else.And sometimes, it’s just more enjoyable and easier to read soemthing on the printed page. I have The Complete New Yorker on CD-ROM. Among the many interesting works the magazine has printed over the years is Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood.” I’d like to read it, but it’s over 300 pages. I’m not gonna read it on my laptop. And printing out 300 pages seems a little silly. I could buy it for about the same price when you add the cost of paper and ink. Or, I could just get it from the library.So, I think there are other reasons for enticing people to read newspapers besides guilt. At least I hope so!

  2. Aaron Read

    But no business ever succeeded by persuading people to pay for something they can get for free.Ahem, what about public radio? That’s EXACTLY their business model. Supposedly public radio is doing a lot better fiscally than newspapers are.One could argue that cable TV, for many years, also had essentially that same business model. Obviously that hasn’t been true for the past five or ten years as cable offers more content than over-the-air TV, but for most of the 1980’s cable TV didn’t have all that much of an advantage over regular TV.

  3. Bill Toscano

    Dan: I was always taught that newspapers did not profit on single-copy sales.Am I wrong?Oh, and what’s with Jackie Macmullan getting away with “blew his wad” in a sports story?

  4. Anonymous

    Not to mention that it is financial incentives that often force change. Subsidizing a “dead” industry just because it’s been done in the past or because “we should” is a non-starter. What has that given us in the past? Detroit’s auto industry, for one. And what happened there? Japan.By saying that “we should support what we have” until a new business model can be developed pretty much guarantees that no new business model will ever be developed.

  5. Larz

    Sure, buy newspapers! Just like Rupert!I always buy papers. There isn’t an on-line edition anywhere that measures up to the print edition. Less eye-strain, too.The publisher probably values the number on the circulation audit more than he does the income from the sale. We need a means of crediting newspapers with circulation for each on-line view.Larz

  6. Anonymous

    As Roy made plain in his follow-up article today, he was not saying that journalists should buy the paper. He was saying that journalists should read the paper.

  7. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 11:22: Roy is a very good, ethical guy. Which means that he would not support journalists’ stealing the paper. Which means he wants them to buy it. Otherwise, he would not have written: “It is your duty as a journalist and a citizen to read the newspaper — emphasis on paper, not pixels.”I’m sorry, but the follow-up you refer to strikes me as classic CYA: “I did not argue last week that it was the journalist’s duty to ‘buy’ the paper, only to ‘read’ it. Anyone who has ever sat on a subway or in an airport lounge knows that you can read a newspaper — several, in fact — without spending a penny.” I mean, gee, there’s always dumpster-diving, too. Come on, Roy, stick to your guns!

  8. Anonymous

    The NY Times videos are good, even though they sometimes simply repeat the article. However, few newspaper web sites offer videos and none are as good as the NY Times site. The Times is clearly spending a lot of money on their site while most other papers cannot.

  9. Peter Porcupine

    I have subscribed to at leaast one, and as many as three, newspapers all my adult life – I wrote this about two years ago upon the sale of the Barnstable Patriot, and think it germane to this discussion –

  10. Anonymous

    Two points regarding TimesSelect.One, that business model made no sense to me in the first place. They were requesting payment, not for their news reporting, but for access to their op-ed columnists’ columns. That suggests to me that they were devaluing their news reporting in relation to their op-ed columns.Two, there were several web sites (which shall go unnamed) that republished the op-ed columns for free. It was, obviously, copyright infringement, but they did it and the NYTimes didn’t appear to have done anything about it.–raj.

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