Why I Left Print Media for Digital

    by Jennifer Woodard Maderazo
    January 31, 2008

    In new media circles, one of the hottest topics of recent years has been the print-to-digital shift. People pundit about it, shout “print is dead” and wallow in the sadness sparked by nostalgia for a day when this wasn’t a question. We’ve also begun speculating on whether a device like the Kindle will really ever take our attention away from ink-on-paper.

    I myself have never been too interested in this debate. Perhaps that’s why I’ve done virtually nothing to avoid the switch from print to digital, but rather let it sweep over me naturally. Some people have been fed up with the clutter caused by print media or the fact that the delivery of traditional news is too slow. Others cling to magazines and newspapers out of necessity or because of conviction and dedication to a particular publication. My print-to-digital conversion happened not out of principle but because of a series of mundane circumstances.

    Ironically, the first to fall was my favorite print publication of all: the New York Times Sunday edition. A long-time subscriber to the paper in its print form, I relished Sunday mornings on the floor with it (it is too big to read comfortably in bed or on the couch) and a nice pot of coffee.


    But then it started disappearing. Either it wouldn’t get delivered or one of my neighbors would pilfer it. I started thinking that running downstairs before 7 a.m. so I could beat the thief (or thieves) to my own paper might be a waste of what would be a normally tranquil Sunday morning. But I kept doing that for a few more weeks until, without really realizing it, I started letting the Sunday editions pile up without reading them.

    When I didn’t have time to get to them because I had an early breakfast with friends or I woke up too late, I’d feel guilty. So I would grab the parts of the paper that interested me the most (Business, Travel and Sunday Style) and force myself to read them. Other times, I’d find myself opting to read the Times on my laptop from the comfort of my bed or couch. I’d eye the print version with guilt, but I had to face up to facts. The hassle associated with reading the paper — things that might not have bothered me before — were causing me to shift to the online version in spite of myself. The Gray Lady was too big, too stealable, too early and too cluttery, while the web version was convenient, compact, constantly updated and unfilchable.

    That’s Not News to Me

    Next to go was a magazine: Popular Photography. The main reason for this was the print version’s lack of timeliness. I subscribed to it, and as is typical with magazine subscriptions, didn’t receive the first issue until several months later. When I finally did receive it I was excited, but later found in reading the issue that a lot of the content that was deemed “breaking news” was no longer news to me.


    I bought a new Canon 40D the week it came out, so the exciting news around this new camera wasn’t news to me. And even if I hadn’t purchased the camera, sites like KenRockwell.com and Luminous Landscape had covered the release with much more timeliness than the print magazine. I had already read all I wanted about this in RSS feeds, on blogs and in Flickr forums.

    There are a lot of valuable tips that come in handy, buyer’s guides that are nice, but the truth is half of the content isn’t suited to me. I was left thinking how much more I could get by going online and accessing exactly the content I want, rather than waiting for it to appear at the whims of the magazine’s editors. In the end, though I like the magazine, PopPhoto also met the chopping block.

    No Time for Clipping

    The one print addiction I thought I’d never shake was with food magazines. Every month, Food and Wine, Gourmet and Bon Appetit would arrive in my mailbox, and up until recently, I would eagerly anticipate their arrival. Before, I would take time to read every article, and clip out all of the recipes that interested me to later put into my recipe box. Somewhere along the way, I got too busy for even the reading part and now I have no time for the ritual of selecting, clipping and pasting onto recipe cards.

    The Number 1 culprit here is my lack of free time. Number 2 is the great job some of these titles are doing in revamping their websites. Epicurious.com is the portal for both Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazines, and dare I say that with the exception of the photography, the content is a lot better than the print version.

    Taking cues from more homegrown sites like Serious Eats, Epicurious has blog posts and video to complement the articles and recipes. And it spares me the physical work (which I in fact miss) of clipping recipes, as I can store them all in my “recipe box” online. Best of all, I know which recipe’s a dog before attempting it, as other users share their ratings. Plus you can select to print a given user review with the recipe, so if someone says “easy on the salt, add a bit more water” you’ll have that pointer there as well. Another critical reason for abandoning print food media was my shift toward food blogs and new food sites, where I can get great writing more specialized to my tastes.

    You Shift, I Shift, Others Don’t

    Blogger and web designer Joel Housman told me that — like my experience with PopPhoto — the outdated information is what got him to switch from print to digital. An avid magazine subscriber, Housman dumped Wired, Mac Addict, Maximum PC, Macworld and other print titles for their online equivalents and never looked back. Housman put it this way: “I found that ALL of their content can be had online for months before the print edition gets to me. Why waste the paper? Why read two-month-old news? I stay way more on top of things by scanning the 250+ RSS feeds I watch during the day.”

    He says that there are no cons to the switch.

    Print Version of The Economist in RSS

    Scott Karp, Editor of Publishing 2.0, said in a blog post that he was canceling all of his print subscriptions to business magazines because he just got fed up with the clutter, and had too much information to deal with anyway: “Thanks to the RSS feeds from a select group of blogs on media…I have more high-yield, high-quality business-related content than I can possibly consume in a 24-hour period.”

    For people who’ve shifted media consumption from offline to online, it’s easy to think that everyone else feels the same. My friend Andrea was caught off guard when I asked her why she still subscribes to Us Weekly and The Economist in magazine form.

    “I read them on BART [Bay Area Rapid Transit] when I’m commuting,” she said. “Plus I can clip things and circle what I’m interested in for later reference.”

    The idea of reading these publications online hadn’t even crossed her mind when I asked her the question “why not go online?” The answer: “Again, because I want to read them on BART.”

    In Andrea’s life of daily commuting, print still serves a purpose.

    I pressed on. “Why not use your mobile device?”

    “Reading them on my phone just isn’t the same,” she said.

    And I have to agree with her there. Mobile content still isn’t up to snuff, and there are places in our lives where print publications might always be missed, such as on planes — though the offline version of Google Reader and rumors about WiFi in the air might change all of that.

    For some, the shift is just too painful. On a recent visit to my friend Silvia’s house in New York, I counted 10 wrapped, untouched editions of the New York Times sitting by her front door. As more came in, I helped her take the unread ones down to the basement for recycling. Her love for the publication itself is somehow wrapped up in the ink and the ritual. She doesn’t have time for the relationship, but the breakup isn’t easy.

    For me, it’s a bit easier. I just took a paper bag with the last remnants of my relationship with print magazines and newspapers down to the recycling bin and I feel liberated. Eliminating physical media continues to be a tough thing for me, but seeing the magazines fall was a sign that I am closer to going all digital. The last frontier will be books, but unlike my parting with newspapers and magazines, I am fighting that one tooth and nail.

    What do you think? Have you made a switch from print publications to their online counterparts? Why or why not? What are the pros and cons of such a switch? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

    Jennifer Woodard Maderazo is the associate editor of PBS MediaShift. She is a San Francisco-based writer, blogger and marketer, who covers Latino marketing at Latin-Know and Latino cultural issues at VivirLatino.

    Newspaper image via satanslaundromat on Flickr

    Tagged: digital journalist new media newspapers
    • Rick

      I dumped magazines and newspapers quite a few years ago. For a long time I kept some subscription to publications I was somehow ‘attached’ to, but found I was never reading them anymore.

      This however doesn’t mean I’ve dumped print completely. Although I now get all the information (and much of the entertainment) I want online, I have found that I’ve actually started reading considerably more books then I did before. And I don’t see myself exchanging those for Kindle.

    • I made this switch as well. I had the same reasons plus money. I can spare +- 1.5% of my income. :)

      And I felt in love with mobile internet: I have a different experience than your friend. I like to read news in transport, thanks mobile browser Opera Mini 4 it… just works. Except missing signal in subway (here in Czech republic) and websites which requier registration.

      But there is one problem. I’ve got a feeling, that I read too much about things I like, and don’t know about things that are important but not in my interest (articles from World section, …). Newspapers and magazines “pushed me” to read about (for example) development in central Africa, and it was as a matter of fact good for me.

    • I enjoy reading print when I get my hands on it, but I find I can consume more targeted, relevant information when I read it online. I subscribe to several Google alerts so I can read the news I want – trolling through blogs, newspaper sites and other sources – right away as it arrives in my email inbox. This is in addition to the multitude of feeds I read daily via netvibes.com.

      With my iPhone I am able to browse easily through the email alerts before even getting out of bed, simultaneous with NPR on my morning radio alarm. The biggest drawback so far is that reading the iPhone in bed causes problems around whether to hold the gadget upright or sideways.

    • It’s interesting that I see parts of myself in each of your comments.

      Rick, I totally agree about books. In years of living in different countries and moving around, I haven’t been able to get rid of them because I haven’t wanted to. Plus, I can’t stop buying them. Like you, I can’t imagine myself with a book “device”. Thinking of myself in the kitchen with a Kindle is just silly.

      Adam, excellent point about what we lose in giving up the newspaper. Reading feeds and specialized blogs lets you easily avoid being exposed to things that aren’t right in your line of vision. I know that when I had the NYT print edition I probably felt less up to date on certain things — like technology — than I do now, but I think the range of topics was more broad.

      Heather, I do the same thing with my iPod Touch. Unlike Adam, as chronicled on this blog, I hadn’t been able to warm up to mobile content until I got that device. Like you I enjoy reading news from bed, and yes, I’ve also struggled with getting physically comfortable with it. I’ve had it for about a month now and am still in awe of how wonderfully it handles web browsing. It’s literally changed my media consumption habits for the better.

      Thank you all for your comments!

    • I don’t live in the US, so subscribing to a US print publication has far greater financial implications for me than for US users, and of course they always arrive weeks after the publication date. From the standpoint of many non-US users, therefore, it isn’t so much a question of a shift from print to digital as of publications which were formerly difficult to gain access to becoming easily accessible.

      I used to subscribe to a couple of tech and photography publications and even the digital version of Macworld via Zinio for a while, but I find there’s now too much free and up-to-date information available online to justify adding another source. The only publication I’ve continued to subscribe to is the New Yorker (the January 7 issue landed on my doorstep here in Trinidad just a few days ago!), which remains far more pleasurable to consume in print form.

      But Adam Javurek’s comment about the tendency of one’s online reading to be narrowly targeted towards existing interests, opinions and values is very well taken.

    • Georgia, that’s a great point and one I hadn’t thought about. I remember living in Mexico and pining for U.S. and European publications and not wanting to shell out the cash for them. Before I switched to digital, that would happen to me in Europe with the New York Times. And when I wanted to read Spanish newspaper El Pais here in the U.S., it was either pay $100 a year for subscription (before they opened up) or pay $6 for a week-old print edition. Digital editions — with the exception of a few publications, such as Mexico’s Reforma, which continues to be pay only — have opened up so much of my favorite world publications to me.

      I think the advantages of this digital shift go beyond just convenience and into something that might be less tangible but equally significant: the ability to learn about what’s going on in other countries from their local media rather than through our U.S.-centric media lens. On that front, lack of translation continues to be a barrier but just being able to access news from anywhere at any time is amazing.

    • Indeed. A Lebanese journalist friend of mine living in Beirut tells me that she gets a great deal of information about Lebanon that she can’t find elsewhere by reading Israeli newspapers like Haaretz online!

    • Hi Jennifer.

      I still like my print magazines simply because Im an archivist and a collector. But also I strain my eyes on the computer. I do a lot of reading and I am just not convinced it is safe to be staring three feet from the monitor five hours of the day. There are about half a dozen blogs I browse regularly for their own unique content.

      I suppose if someone convinced me that my eyes would be ok I would sever the subscriptions. It is interesting to think that purely internet based media is viewed with some suspicions in credibility yet the traditionalists are following.

    • wrighteous

      I read many publications online, but for mobile use I’m waiting for large color ePaper.

      A cell phone is a good reader for novels, more or less a newspaper column width. Check out http://www.booksinmyphone.com for a source of free classics, pretty neat.

    • I stopped paying for magazines. I cash in air miles, or wait for some online site to have a freebie and grab them. Mainly for use in the can or in the car or during commercials.

      I still get two newspapers.
      Use RSS everyday.
      Hardly ever go to a news website however because I get the serendipity from the print versions.

      Adam nailed it. That is the biggest problem with limiting your reading to RSS. Losing the fun that comes from running across a social scientist that makes a great marketing observation. Or a great IT person that makes a great management comment.

      Re: NYT – there is no law that says you have to read the whole thing. Here’s another alert – there are a few millions of people who don’t read the NYT or LAT – online or print.

    • Another thought, for some real serendipity and what’s important in the world try looking at Newseum.org’s “today’s front pages” from around the world.

    • Kevin,

      I feel your pain there. I reluctantly admit that I sometimes spend up to 12 hours per day on the computer due to the fact that most of what I do is online. When that happens, like you, I am ready to get my eyes off the glowing screen of my laptop.


      Thanks for the link. I’ve tried reading books on my iPod Touch and so far it’s only worked for me when I absolutely don’t have a print option handy.


      You’re right, no one forces you to read the whole thing. I just felt like it was a waste when I was paying for a subscription and some trees had to die for my NYT. And I agree with you, I still read magazines if they are around, but I don’t seek out print the way I did before.

      Thanks for your comments!

    • Editer

      I just saw a presentation by a researcher who found that online news is an “inferior good” according to economic theory — as income goes up, online news use goes down. (This was a secondary analysis of Pew data.) She asked the people in the room if they would prefer a print or digital newspaper if the price were the same (free), and nearly everyone preferred print.

      I suspect you are an outlier; print preference appears to be pretty sticky. It certainly is with me.

      BTW my mother lives in NYC and solves the Sunday delivery problem by buying the bulldog edition on Saturday night.

    • Rodger


      I live a mile back in the woods, but do have DSL internet. My P.O. Box is 10 miles away. I have no T.V. I read 3 newspapers daily online. Do not subscribe to any magazines. Garner most or all of my information off the net.

      I am 63 years old. Communicate with my extended family on Facebook. My grandson sent me this article you wrote. He sent it this morning. He is a college student. Not sure where he accessed the article.

      Interesting that all the previous posts are almost 2 years old! :)


    • I think this blog is pretty cool,it has a lot of good and interesting content about Print Media for Digital good for you I hope you can add more useful information and upgrade your site,I really like it

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