I knew the day was coming, but it was still a shock when the day came. Groggy-eyed in the early morning light, I slowly went down the four flights of stairs in the front of my building and looked down. Nothing. For 18 generally uninterrupted years, I had the San Francisco Chronicle delivered to me, except when neighbors stole it. Today, there was nothing to steal.
I had made the call a couple days earlier to cancel my print subscription. After going through the process of getting the Chronicle at a reduced rate of $20 for a year of Wednesday-through-Sunday delivery, then having that rate shoot up to $400+ per year, the time had come to cut the cord. Or stretch the cord, depending on what I would now be reading over breakfast.
Because, after all, I write and edit a site dedicated to the way media habits are changing, so why can’t I change my own habits? What was keeping me in ink and paper for so many years? The morning ritual of reading the paper over breakfast? Sharing it with family and loved ones? The simplicity of taking a glance at the news, cutting out an article by hand? Extra wrapping paper?
The holdup was what would replace the newspaper. Sitting at a laptop while eating breakfast seemed wrong. But now I have a Kindle 2 with a monthly subscription to the New York Times (and I can get a subscription to the Chronicle as well). My iPhone is loaded with news apps like the AP Mobile Network and the New York Times — both of which are free.
I’m still not sure how this will play out day to day, how my newspaper habit will be replaced precisely, but I am sure there will be benefits to my new newsprint-free life. As with any life-changing decision, I have to weigh the pros and cons, so here’s what I imagine they will be:
Benefits of No Print Newspaper
1. Lower carbon footprint. I’ve discussed in-depth the environmental costs of our dead-tree habits. Now I can see first-hand how much less paper there will be in my life — just from not having to drag down two bags of newspapers to the recycling bin each week.
2. No print subscription cost. For now, I can read newspaper content on my iPhone, on the web and even at reduced rates on my Kindle. While newspaper and media barons have been making noise about charging for content, the current reality is that it’s largely free and will be a cost savings for me.
3. No delivery hassles. Probably less of a big deal, but there is the occasional delivery problem where I have to call to get my newspaper re-delivered. Or I would have to deal with newspapers piling up when I go on vacation. No more.
4. News outside the bubble. I used to rely almost entirely on the Chronicle for local news. Now I have more motivation to look outside the paper to online-only local sites like Mission Local, SF Appeal, Spot.us, and the Public Press. I should have been doing that already, but having no print paper will make this a more obvious choice.
5. Customizing the news experience. Not only can I look online for more local sources of info, but I am now much more likely to use custom aggregators such as DailyMe or Google Reader more than I currently do. If my news habit is going digital, it’s also going to need a lot of smart filtering so I’m not hunting around for news half the time.
6. Share-ability. If you want to share a story online, it’s just a few clicks away. Just hit the “email” button and fill in your friend’s email address and it’s off to their inbox. Of course, it’s a bit more difficult sharing from a Kindle or from an iPhone app.
Downsides of Not Having the Print Newspaper
1. Losing the ultimate portability. Print’s biggest advantage over digital has always been the portability of it. You can take it with you anywhere and read it anywhere — even on planes when the “no electronic devices” ban is in effect. It needs no electricity, no charging, no connectivity.
2. Different shared experiences. While it’s certainly possible to share what I read on digital devices, it’s just not the same as passing a newspaper around to a group of people, or reading comics with my son, or clipping a story to save for later.
3. Disposability. With a newspaper, when you rip a page or spill coffee on it, it’s not a big deal. With a digital device, a spill could cost you $299. This might be something you get used to, or devices might adapt to their surroundings and get more rugged. But ultimately when you swap an inexpensive print paper for a more expensive device, there are trade-offs.
4. Convenience on the go. Print newspapers are super-convenient to pick up cheap while commuting, traveling, hanging at a cafe, or doing anything while out and about if you don’t have your other digital devices with you. That might be less true with the advent of smartphones, but print publications always seem like great fodder to fill up time on the go.
5. Killing the business. I can be detached and say over and over that the newspaper business is responsible for its missteps and the sad state of its dwindling revenues and it has only itself to blame for its current mess. But still… I have written for newspapers and about newspapers for years, so it’s still difficult to drop my subscription knowing that it will directly harm journalists doing good work for my local paper.
I will be giving regular updates on my life without the print newspaper on my Twitter feed, and will let you know if I backslide when they make me a seriously cheap offer for newspaper delivery.
In the meantime, tell me your own experiences “kicking ink” and how it’s changed your life (or not). Feel free to write me through the Contact Form on MediaShift or via the comments below.
Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.